US senator on Equifax hack: 'Somebody needs to go to jail'
Heidi Heitkamp (Photo: screen capture)

A U.S. senator called on Tuesday for a criminal probe of actions taken by executives of credit bureau Equifax after a massive data breach this summer and said their actions were comparable to insider trading.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat who sits on the Senate Banking Committee, said it was "disturbing" that it appeared executives sold nearly two million dollars' worth of company stock in the gap between learning of a sweeping hacker intrusion and making it public.

"If that happened, somebody needs to go to jail," Heitkamp said at a credit union industry conference in Washington. "It's a problem when people can act with impunity with no consequences. How is that not insider trading?"

Equifax announced last week that it learned on July 29 that hackers had infiltrated its systems in mid-May, gaining access to a wide swath of personal information, in what cyber security experts believe is one of the largest data hacks ever disclosed.

Three days after Equifax discovered the breach, three top company executives, including Chief Financial Officer John Gamble and a president of a unit, sold Equifax shares or exercised options to dispose of stock worth about $1.8 million, regulatory filings show.

Equifax said in a statement last week that the executives were not aware that an intrusion had occurred when they sold their shares.

Also on Tuesday, Senator Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat, called on the Federal Trade Commission to launch its own Equifax probe. Specifically, he called for an investigation of whether the company misled consumers by saying it considered protecting customer information a top priority.

The company did not immediately respond to Heitkamp's comments.

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Dan Grebler)