With growing evidence that Americans want new data privacy laws, the U.S. Senate opens a series of hearing today on legislative solutions to data breaches and identity theft.

Thursday's full Senate Commerce Committee hearing will not specifically address any of the several bills introduced in the 109th Congress, which combat identity theft and force data brokers to disclose breaches of personal information to consumers.

Instead, the panel will hear from all five members of the Federal Trade Commission, which most likely would be charged with enforcing any new data privacy laws. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell also will be representing the National Association of Attorneys General.

The hearing comes just one day after the release of an Entrust survey showing 71 percent of Americans believe new laws are needed to protect consumer privacy on the Internet.

''The results of this survey should serve as a wake-up call to policy-makers and business leaders,'' Entrust CEO Bill Conner said in a statement. ''Voters view identity theft as a white hot issue and want the government to protect them. In the interim, they are voting with their keyboards by curtailing their online transactions.''

According to the survey of 1,003 likely U.S. voters, 97 percent of the respondents rate identity theft as a serious problem, with 48 percent saying they now avoid online purchases out of fear of their financial data being stolen.

Conner urged Congress to enact a uniform national breach notification law for unauthorized acquisition of unencrypted personal information.

Momentum is growing for a national data breach disclosure in the wake of numerous disclosures this year of data brokers, banks and universities losing or exposing the personal information of millions of consumers.

The disclosures would not have come to light except for a new California law that requires a business or government agency to notify an individual in writing or by e-mail when it is believed that unencrypted personal information has been compromised.

The success of the California law is prompting a number of states to pursue the legislation. In the face of the apparent inevitability of numerous state laws, technology lobbyists are now pursuing a national disclosure law that would pre-empt all state laws.

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