By Alex GianniniAssociated PressWASHINGTON (AP) The U.S. Justice Department says it will file a lawsuit Wednesday in a federal court in Atlanta challenging a behemoth department store chain’s refusal to turn customers’ names and social security numbers over to federal investigators.
The suit was filed in U.N. District Court for the Eastern District of Georgia against Bealls by the National Association of Attorneys General.
It says the refusal of Bealls to turn records over to the government violates federal privacy laws and could have a “widespread adverse impact on the availability of law enforcement and public safety services.”
In a letter to Bealls, attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington state said they would seek to enforce a federal privacy law barring the disclosure of customers’ data.
“It is important to note that, as with any court case, there is nothing in the complaint to suggest the DOJ intends to seek a specific monetary award,” the letter says.
“Rather, the DOJ seeks to protect the privacy of individuals who have been affected by this breach and to hold accountable those who knowingly and willfully violated their rights.”
Bealls declined to comment.
The lawsuit, which is likely to go before a federal judge, also names a number of other retailers including Dollar General, Gap, JCPenney, Target, and Wal-Mart.
The Department of Commerce and Justice declined to say how much the suit has cost.
The U.K.-based company, which has more than 2,400 stores nationwide, said in a statement Wednesday that it will continue to operate its operations.
“We have a long and proud history of serving our customers with integrity and transparency,” it said.
“As such, we are committed to upholding our commitment to the law and are confident that the case will ultimately be dismissed.”
It was not immediately clear who the plaintiffs are or how many customers were affected.
The lawsuit was filed by the association’s executive director, Elizabeth Brown.
The Justice Department is suing Bealls on behalf of three states, as well as several companies and other individuals who were targeted by the breach, the letter said.
The complaint said the breach could be devastating for businesses that rely on people’s information to operate and attract new customers.
“By making its customers’ identities, including social security and driver’s license information, unavailable to the general public, Bealls has ensured that many people who would otherwise have sought to purchase Bealls products would instead instead have to choose between making purchases or potentially being victimized by identity theft,” the Justice Department said.