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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Government and Business Want to Convince You 2+2=5

In George Orwell’s 1984, the “Party” had achieved its ultimate goal of transformation when its members confirmed that they believed 2+2=5. Just saying they believed was not enough. And if the Party wasn’t assured of this belief, people had a way of disappearing, as if they had never existed.

Fortunately, we don’t have to be afraid today that government will make us vanish without a trace, but it, along with certain business interests, is still using the same tactics to destroy our right to privacy. Let me explain my reasoning, starting with government.

A recent article on, “House Tables Data-Breach Law Talk,” by Roy Mark, pretty much says it all. It fizzled, according to Mark, because Democrats opposed the fact that it “lacks enforcement teeth.” They are right, because the law does not include the one factor that will insure that the legislation is both powerful and lasting, and that is… giving control of their name and personal data to the consumer.

Another article by the Counter Think organization, “Experts predict no data security bill will pass Congress in 2005,” agrees with Mark and makes an interesting comparison. They mention the California legislation responsible for exposing the ChoicePoint, LexisNexis, etc. breaches and the fact this law would be compromised in all currently proposed, weaker federal legislation. And the same applies to a recently passed New York law, the Information Security Breach and Notification Act, requiring consumer notification of data loss.

The Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) is questioning that state’s Senate Bill 712, similar to California and New York, except, companies have to notify affected customers only if they “reasonably believe” the security breach will cause damage. The article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette by Patricia Sabatini, “Security breach notification bill won’t protect consumers, group says,” reports that the governor is scheduled to sign it, regardless. Nobody listens to the experts. PIRG has been around since 1983 working at the state level to protect consumer interests.

The federal government and the present Congress and administration will delay any substantive action and/or legislation as long as the consumer remains apathetic and continues to accept the fact that their privacy is not a priority. Further, that they continue to condone the fact that their name and personal data can be sold or used in any way the government or business decides, and without question. In other words, the consumer be damned and the public is willing to live with it.

On the business side, it is not likely to clean up its act until it is forced to do so. I was in the junk mail industry for thirty-five years and I can assure you that the emphasis was always…get as much private information as possible on the individual and sell it to the highest bidder. Not …just how do we make sure the data collected is secure.

Since ChoicePoint started the parade in February of 2005, some other major contributors to the “loose security” brigade are: Bank of America; DSW Retail; LexisNexis; Ralph Lauren Polo/HSBC; Time Warner; Dept. of Justice; Citi Financial; CardSystems (biggest ever at 40 million data files); and TransUnion. According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, there have been ninety-six total breaches in 2005, totaling close to 54 million consumer records lost. And then there are the more recent.

On December 2, Sam’s Club, a division of Wal-Mart, disclosed that customers purchasing gas had experienced credit card fraud. In a Computerworld article by Jaikumar Vijayan, “Update: Security breach at Sam’s Club exposes credit card data,” he says an unspecified number affected had purchased gas between 9/21 and 10/2/05. Sam’s Club is working with Visa and MasterCard in their investigation.

And then on December 16, ABN AMRO Mortgage Group, a subsidiary of LaSalle Bank Corp., announced that a computer tape with personal data on 2 million customers, including Social Security numbers, was “missing.” Covered in a Detroit News article by Susan Tompor, “ABN AMRO data lost,” the tape was lost in November when DHL delivery service picked it up in transit to the Experian credit bureau. Fortunately, the tape was located by DHL but the question persists: where was it, and why was it lost?

There is only one way to protect the use of consumers’ names and personal data. Pass federal legislation to give the individual control over their name and private information. And, while we’re at it, compensate the name-holder for its use. Why not? The control provides protection against identity theft and the payback for selling this data can be used to supplement your Social Security.

Think about it and join my grass-roots effort to pass this legislation. Write your Congress person. Write letters to the editor of your local paper or call radio and TV stations’ consumer correspondents. Or, send me an e-mail at and I will see that your thoughts are known by Congressional leaders and the media.

1 comment:

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