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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Moving Ahead With Privacy In Junk Mail

In my last post, “A Brief History of Privacy in Junk Mail,” I made some points which I felt established the fact that our rights to privacy concerning our name and personal data prevail over any rights the 1st Amendment gives junk mailers. We progressed through The Privacy Act of 1974 and a 1997 Privacy Protection Study Commission that issued its report: “Personal Privacy In An Information Society.”

This Commission recommended that junk mailers should inform consumers in advance of selling their name and personal data, specifically how it would be sold. Also, that the consumer should have the right to decide “if” it is to be sold. Just short of my concept that we should have 100% control, but a good start. It isn’t clear what it cost to form this Commission, but, obviously, it was at least partially a waste of money.

The most that came out of it was the junk mail industry’s resolve to put a sometimes barely readable message in most catalogs and other offers that said the customer could opt-out of having their name sold. No mention was ever made anywhere of the zillions of bits of private information that were being collected on the individual and compiled in huge databases.

Now, fast-forward to the year 2005, twenty-eight years later. Did we learn anything? Apparently not, considering the period of time that has elapsed with nothing else being done.

So after all the breaches by the data brokers, financial institutions and large companies, Congress has decided to take another shot at privacy. That would be the Personal Data Privacy And Security Act Of 2005, sponsored by Senators Specter and Leahy. It’s the one that requires notification of a breach after it has already happened. The Act is riddled with shortcomings for the consumer, and I am really disappointed with Senator Leahy, a Democrat, for not seeing this.

The first drawback, pointed out above, is notification “after” the fact. Second, setting a minimum (10,000 individuals) on databases that have to comply is ridiculous. What’s the magic of the number 10,000? But this one takes the prize for irony: prohibiting the sale of Social Security numbers. I can see crooked information brokers looking at this section of the Act and scampering off to their computers to steal all the SS #’s they can before the legislation is enacted.

Think, Congress! The only way to curb the problem of breaches of our private information and the resulting identity theft is federal legislation that will give consumers 100% control over their name and personal data. Like I said in an earlier post, “bite the bullet” and do it right this time.

In the meantime, if you want a really happy constituency, pave the way for the junk mail shopper to share in the $4 billion annually from the sale of names and personal data. I have made a case for using this money to supplement our Social Security, and, if acted on soon, could be in place for the alarm periods of 2018 and 2042.

And to cap it all off, junk mailers recently held something called “List Vision 2005” in New York. They are worried about list-regulation legislation that is being considered by Congress and feel self-regulation is the best defense against extensive legislative restrictions. They’re talking about alleviating consumer fears. Where were these people from 1974 to 2005?

You’d think the industry would wake up and realize that the meat of their existence, the junk mail customer, deserves better treatment. Give them what is rightfully theirs: 100% control over their name and personal data. Share with them the proceeds of that $4 billion each year.

The most-attended discussion panel at List Vision 2005 was “Suicide Prevention: Let’s Not Kill the List Industry.” The 1980”s “Me” generation has taken up residence in 2005. The major concern of the list hucksters is their own well-being, and, as a former broker of mailing list names, I don’t think that will ever change.


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