President Obama signed an executive order on Friday designed to increase Americans' financial security and strengthen protections against identity theft.
The new "BuySecure" initiative is an attempt to expedite the transition away from debit and credit cards with magnetic strips, a dated technology that's more vulnerable to intrusion, and toward cards with microchips and PIN numbers, which are considered more secure. Under the order, starting next year, all government-issued cards will make use of the newer technology.
The president said Friday that the changes would add new layers of protection for consumers against financial fraud, nodding at data breaches at large retailers like Target and Home Depot in the past year that have exposed information on millions of customers to potential hackers.
"Last year, millions of Americans became victims of identity theft," he said. "More than 100 million Americans had information that was compromised in data breaches in some of our largest companies, and identity theft is now America's fastest growing crime."
"The idea that somebody halfway around the world could run up thousands of dollars of charges in your name just because they stole your number or because you swiped your card at the wrong place in the wrong time, that's infuriating," he added. "For victims, it's heartbreaking, and as a country we've got to do more to stop it."
As part of the new initiative, the government will upgrade payment terminals at facilities like the passport office and national parks to enable them to accept microchip-based cards, and a number of large retailers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot have agreed to follow suit.
"We know this technology works," the president said. "When Britain switched to a chip and pin system, they cut fraud in stores by 70 percent."
The order will also assist the development of a website - IdentityTheft.gov - to provide a "one-stop resource" for victims of identity theft and to "streamline the reporting and remediation process with credit bureaus," according to a White House fact sheet. And it will encourage credit score transparency by encouraging banks and other financial institutions to provide free credit score updates on a monthly basis.
Friday's executive order is only the latest in a series of administrative actions taken by the president to enact economic reforms in the face of a gridlocked Congress. Previous orders have, among other things, targeted job training programs and the minimum wage for federal contractors.
Republicans have accused the president of overextending his executive authority, but Mr. Obama has said the nation simply can't afford to wait for Congress to get its act together, vowing to use his pen and his phone to push his agenda forward if lawmakers won't act.
On Friday, the president called on Congress to "do its part" to strengthen financial security by passing a bill streamlining state laws on data breaches in a way that "brings certainty to businesses and keeps consumers safe."
As he signed the order, the president joked about a recent credit snafu of his own, telling the audience that his personal card was turned down when he was in a New York City restaurant last month. "Fortunately Michelle had hers," he said, adding that he probably hasn't used his card often enough to keep it active.