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Friday, December 29, 2006

Big Brother Just Got Bigger

Civil Libertarians Bash Bush’s Privacy Guidelines

If you look inside the White House, there is a new extension of Big Brother taking legs from the administration’s latest attempt to curb our ability to know who is spying on us. Bush’s new privacy guidelines fail to protect the rights of Americans, according to what civil libertarians told the privacy board’s first public forum. Right out of the box, his imperial majesty is being told he is all wrong again by some of the top privacy advocates in the country.

Weaker Than Privacy Act of 1974

Over thirty years later, with the shortcomings of the Privacy Act of 1974 well known—government able to bypass law and collect data on citizens from private data brokers—this President still can’t get it right. In a Washington Post article by Ellen Nakashima, “Civil Libertarians Protest Privacy Policy,” Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center is quoted as saying, “…the guidelines pale in comparison to protection offered under the Privacy Act of 1974.”

Once Again, Innocent Americans at Risk

James Dempsey from the Markle Foundation, which focuses on improving national security while protecting established civil liberties, says the guidelines don’t allow redress for people erroneously targeted in counterterrorism programs. This is a subject I have been blogging on for almost two years now. No matter how many times this administration tells us they don’t spy on innocent Americans, with the data mining techniques now being used, they cannot avoid it. I know. Predictive modeling was a part of my function as a mailing list broker and database expert.

Technology Must be Harnessed to Protect Consumers

The technology revolution is only going to grow at an accelerated pace based on the recent past, and the one thing missing in the equation is the individual’s right to privacy. The original inventors of the computer—and there were a few—could not foresee the problems their inventions would bestow on the average person. Nor were they concerned about this at the time because, like today, they were in a hurry to advance this technology to its greatest height. Now we are there and still progressing at the speed of light. The time has come to focus on the consumer by giving them control over their names and personal data.

Another Extension of Big Brother

Like the USA Patriot Act and NSA spying, Bush has once again manipulated this bureaucratic body so that it is solely under his wing. Lanny Davis, the privacy board’s only Democrat, along with four Republican members, commented that “…he was puzzled about why Congress had placed what was supposed to be an independent oversight board under the president.” Obviously a hypothetical statement. Davis was no doubt thinking ahead to 2007 when Democrats take over Congress.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Junk Mail Industry Rag Belittles Consumer Rights...Again

Richard H. Levy is a Loose Cannon

In an April 2006 article, “Junk Mail Industry Rag Puts Down Consumer,” I refuted the publication Direct Magazine in their belief that consumers should never have control over their names and personal data. Read it here; scroll down to the second post. Now, Richard H. Levey, one of Direct’s reporters, in a column called “Loose Cannon,” once again diminishes the importance of the identity crisis by parodying the critical need to protect consumers’ sensitive data. Instead of inviting opinions from industry leaders—some of which I have received that are favorable to more individual control—he takes the failed-attempt-at-humor approach. Pathetic.

Junk Mail Industry Won’t Address Real Issue

There are two major issues that junk mailers refuse to acknowledge as a benefit to their customers, as well as the junk mail companies themselves. One, consumers should have control over their names and private information. Two, they should be paid each time it is sold. Oh horrors, Richard H. Levey—and most others in the field—would scream. It would be the beginning of the end, and put most companies out of business. Hogwash. It could improve the industry significantly, if we do it right this time. And here’s how.

Formula for Success Where Everyone Wins

When you grant individual control, the consumer elects whether or not they want to receive junk mail. If they don’t want it, why send it? That’s the way it got its name in the first place. At the same time, we categorize wants and desires to determine specifically what kinds of offers they want. Why send someone hundreds of additional apparel offers just because they ordered a scarf they couldn’t find at the local department store. And, these wants and desires could be updated on a regular basis.

Finally, each sale of the consumer’s name and personal data is recorded by the dollar amount, and filed away to confirm future payments to the individual. At the same time the list seller deposits an amount equal to one-half of the gross sales of the name and private information in a simple interest-bearing account that can be drawn-on at a later date. A typical junk mail shopper could receive an average of $607 monthly at age 65, if their buying habits began at age 18.

Industry Rewards of My Concept

To start with, junk mailers can eliminate unresponsive households, while still realizing their revenue goals by mailing to those who are. Mailing costs go down; response rates, and average orders, go up. Environmentalists get off your backs because you are finally doing something about the paper waste.

I could hear the outcry over the sharing of mailing list revenue even before finishing this sentence. However, it makes complete sense to me that if the customer can expect this compensation from their purchases; it just means they will buy more often. Traditional retail shoppers would now flock to junk mail to participate in the sharing of the sale of their names and personal data. List sales dollars may not double to make up for the losses from paying customers, but, then, lists are a gold mine at any figure. Junk mail could be known as the business that solved the Social Security dilemma.

It’s Time for Compromise

Unfortunately for the junk mail industry, most of the concessions will have to come from their side. Of course, that is where 100 percent of the control now resides and has since the business first evolved decades ago. There is a choice, and that is to pass federal legislation giving the individual control over their names and private information. Unhappily, it has been this method that most junk mailers have chosen over the years.

I didn’t cover the how-to in the procedure for consumer approval in the use of their names and private information. That was detailed in an earlier post you can find here.

Friday, December 22, 2006

2007 Could Be Awash In ID Theft

Creeping “Creepy” Figures

In just October of 2006, Tom Zeller of the New York Times was telling us, “Data breaches near 94 million.” You can see the Chronology of Data Breaches at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse site where they have been keeping track since the ChoicePoint February 2005 awakening. He continues with some figures from the Ponemon Institute, a privacy consulting company, that are really no longer alarming; just a continuing, pathetic illustration of the state of the identity crisis.

The survey found evidence that over fifty percent of corporate laptops have unprotected sensitive data; one out of every ten laptops is stolen, 97 percent of which are never recovered. Of these same firms, 81 percent reported that laptops or similar devices with private information were stolen. Ample reason why all this data is on the street.

What a Difference Eleven Weeks Can Make

And then on December 18, Zeller comes back with an update article: “An Ominous Milestone: 100 Million Data Leaks.” Apparently a breach of 800 thousand records at U.C.L.A, 130 thousand at Aetna, and 382 thousand at Boeing put us over the top. Each included most of the ingredients necessary to lift your identity, including Social Security number, birth data, driver license number, etc. But even that wasn’t the worst of the news.

The Perfect Caper for Organized Crime

I have been blogging for over a year now that ID theft was made for organized crime. This doesn’t have to apply to just the “Wiseguys” of The Godfather era, although there is evidence this group is involved. There’s a new breed of inherent crook—the kind that preys on any opportunity, like the work-at-home scams or a Katrina disaster—that is more sophisticated and technologically minded, and has the patience and means to wait for the right moment.

In the new article, Zeller tells us there is intelligence out there indicating the black market sites for data are becoming conscious of their mother lode, and that it is just a matter of time until they discover the right formula for exploiting your private information. Remember, 100 million personal records are out there. That’s one-third of the U.S. population. I’m betting—but hoping for the opposite—that 2007 will be the year the bad guys figure it all out.


The reason for my hope is that the American consumer will wake up soon and demand that business and government give them control over their names and private information. And pay them each time it is sold. The individual’s window of opportunity is just shy of closing. The ID thief’s is opening wider each day. Contact your congressional representatives: House; Senate.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Apathetics" Taking Over the World

Webster Should Add “Apathetic” to Dictionary

I have coined a new word to describe the typical consumer when it comes to taking responsibility for their rights. In this case, the right to privacy, and to be free from identity theft. The word is “Apathetic,” and it refers to the majority of individuals today who seem to care less about the alarming amount of fraud being carried out using their names and personal data. Further, most seem even less concerned over the incompetence of the companies handling this private information. As a former broker of mailing lists for 35 years and database expert, I do and I am.

The Abysmal Track Record

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has recently reported that the number of breaches of personal data records has passed 100 million. And that’s just since the awakening incident by ChoicePoint in February of 2005. And from my experience in the junk mail industry, I can assure you that there were millions prior to 2005 that went unreported due to the lack of a notification law like California’s Senate Bill 27, which went into effect January 1, 2005. Based on a Javelin Research/Better Business Bureau survey on identity theft which started reporting figures in 2003, it is easy to project that there will be somewhere around 8.5 million victims in 2007.

United Kingdom ID Thieves Encrypt Fraud/American Companies Say Too Costly

In an article on ZDNet, “Jailed ID thieves thwart cops with crypto,” crooks in the UK were not only able to initiate the deleting of their databases—while handcuffed, no less—but also to trigger encryption that police technology experts were unable to decrypt. US business has maintained for years that encryption is too expensive to implement. But, does the UK incident give you an idea of the level of sophistication the bad guys have been able to achieve? It is a business, folks, and the product they are selling is your sensitive data. Look in the mirror. It’s just a matter of time.

Identity Crisis Battle Lost in Three Major Areas

I posted a comment to the above UK article to demonstrate three critical points of the identity crisis. The first was that the business community is concerned only with profits; therefore, the protection of our personal data is secondary. Second, congressional leaders are only interested in getting re-elected, thus, their vote also goes with the money. Third, and the substance of this article, is the apathy of the American public over the possible loss of their identity, eventually their right to privacy.

Some Consumer Opinion Polls Report the “Apathetics” Do Care

I’ve read surveys that report that consumers are concerned about their privacy, and are also troubled over the potential of identity fraud. Yet many make the same mistakes over and over in protecting their private information. Not shredding credit card offers before discarding is at the top of this list, along with freely giving out sensitive data like Social Security number, birth date, driver license, etc. They also don’t demand control over their names and personal data; at the same that they be paid whenever it is sold. It’s time to lose the apathy.

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What I Want for Christmas is Control over My Name and Personal Data

Santa Claus’s Bag of Tricks

If there is one thing I wish that Santa could pull out of his bag this Christmas for this household, it is the right to take back control over our names and personal data. It should be easy to get down the chimney, and we would even settle for it as a stocking-stuffer. I can see leaving tons of cookies to reward the old guy for doing something the outgoing 109th Congress seemed completely incapable of. I’ve lost track of the actual number of identity theft bills that were introduced and allowed to just…languish, but one was too much.

Data Breaches Go Merrily On Their Way

Articles abound on data lost—the latest, 800 thousand student, faculty and staff records from UCLA—and even a few that claim the identity crisis is overblown. Somewhere in the middle—and that’s exactly where the consumer is caught—there is a balance. But it all must start by business and government turning over control of individual sensitive data to the name-holder. That’s you, and you should get ready to accept and shoulder this responsibility. It is a concept that would offer significant improvements to every U.S. household.

Just a Few of the Perks

• First of all, if implemented correctly, my concept could stop ID theft overnight. That’s because you would approve any transaction using your private information.
• Second, you could decide on a national level what junk mail you want and what you don’t want.
• Third, you would have access to any personal data collected about you, in order to assure that it is accurate, with the right to correct. This would include data brokers, credit bureaus, and medical and financial databases.
• Fourth, although in cases of national security emergencies your data could be accessed, the government agency in question would be required to notify you.
• Fifth, and second only to the first perk, you would be paid each time your name and private information was sold.

New Year’s Resolution

We should all make a New Year’s resolution to lose the apathy over the identity crisis issue, and start standing up to business and government to let them know we want back control over our names and personal data. Either join my grass-roots movement by letting me know how you feel, or join other advocates in fighting for this right to privacy. Also let your congressional representatives know. Contact: House of Representatives; Senate.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Personal Data Breaches--Your Private Information--Are Still Rampant

1 Million Data Breaches in the Last 60 Days

That’s right. One-million records of personal information have hit the street in the last 60 days. They’re out there for the taking and don’t fool yourself, the ID thieves are becoming more sophisticated every day. They can outwait you to steal your identity, and cause complete chaos in your household. As an example, the original February 2005 ChoicePoint breach of 163,000 names initially produced 800 actual data thefts. That figure is now up to 1,400—a 75 percent increase—according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The Latest List of Breachers

Starting back in late October, The Sisters of St. Francis Health Services, which operates ten hospitals, lost compact discs with Social Security numbers and more sensitive data on 260,000 patients, as reported by A medical billing contractor copied the data and then lost it in a store. Dumb, but see how easy it is.

And then a USA Today account in early November about how Starbucks lost 4 laptops with Social Security numbers and more on 60,000 employees—over 40 percent of their workforce—missing from a closet in the Seattle corporate office. It took several weeks for the workers to find out what happened, a more than adequate period for the crooks to swoop down. No report yet on actual theft, but, again, the bad guys know to wait for the right moment.

In Pennsylvania, thieves stole computers from a driver’s license center containing dates of birth, drivers’ license numbers and full and partial Social Security numbers on over eleven thousand people. The crooks apparently disabled a “quite complex” security system, again, according to

But the big one was at UCLA in Los Angeles when a hacker broke into a campus computer system, affirmed in another article. One of the largest ever in higher education, 800 thousand students, faculty and staff were alerted that their sensitive data including Social Security numbers and birth dates, was in jeopardy.

In all of these cases, the victim’s name and address were also part of the information stolen.

Two Recent Bizarre Forms of Data Breach to Look Out For

The state of Utah mistakenly exposed the e-mail addresses of kids on their “Do-Not-Email List. Marketing stated that “Proponents of the registry had claimed that it was foolproof.” ID Theft 101: No database is foolproof. Even the data that is supposed to protect against intrusion is somehow accessible.

The other breach is much more frightening. announced that federal agents recently raided several U.S. meatpacking plants to round up illegal aliens who obtained jobs by stealing the identities of American citizens. This means that your private information now has a new pipeline where it can be sold through smuggling operations that fully realize the value of this sensitive data.

Make Your Move Now

Join me! Let the new Democratic Congress know that you want something done about this on their watch. Contact: Senate; House of Representatives.

Friday, December 08, 2006

More Junk Mail Catalogs Opt-Out Dilemma

Junk mail…the Convenient Way to Shop

Junk mail has long been hailed for being a convenient medium in which to shop, albeit a pain in the butt when the mailbox is deluged with unwanted mail. It has become even more accommodating by the use of toll-free numbers to place an order by telephone, and, in the last few years, the Internet.

Junk mailers spent millions on technology to perfect the easiest way to get your order—and money of course—and this continues to be a major outlay for most companies. Of course, in the process, they capture your name and private information—like your phone number and credit card info—which they rush at the speed of light to list peddlers who hawk this sensitive data all over the world.

Taking the Convenience Out of Junk Mail

So how is it that a majority of catalogs our household received recently—in the holiday avalanche, of course—are requiring their customers to either physically send in by mail the actual label on the catalog, or call or fax this information? Why don’t junk mailers just put some of this technology to work setting up an online system for instant opt-out? I’ll tell you why: the majority of their customers would use it, and they wouldn’t have the names available to sell, from which the list business grosses over $4 billion annually.

I did earlier blogs on two catalogs that don’t even offer an opt-out, period. They were Herrington and Brookstone, and maybe you want to read these posts before deciding to shop there. The ones that still make it difficult are: Harry & David; Signals; The Popcorn Factory; Improvements; Crutchfield; The Tog Shop; L.L. Bean; and Pier 1. If you order from any of these companies, you might want to ask their customer service department why they don’t offer online opt-out. That is, unless you’re just lonesome and really crave more junk mail.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Brookstone Catalog No Opt-Out Answer Bizarre

We Will…We Won’t…Sell Your Name

I recently did a post on the Herrington catalog, and the fact they do not give customers the option of not selling their name to other junk mailers. This was “Mr. Herrington’s” idea, according to customer service, a policy I followed for several years as a former list broker, wondering how they got away with it. This practice of allowing consumers to say no to the selling of their name is mandated with Direct Marketing Assn. membership. So you can understand my surprise when another major catalog arrives, sans opt-out.

Brookstone Catalog Worse Than Herrington

Looking through Brookstone’s latest catalog, there was no mention anywhere of the right to say nix on selling my name. Once again I went to the source, asking Brookstone customer service why I was not allowed the opportunity to opt-out of selling my name when purchasing from their catalog. The answer I received sounded completely off-the-wall. Patricia said: “Unfortunately, at this time we cannot accommodate your request. We hope to have this service available one day for our customers’ convenience.”

Brookstone Misleads Customers

The above answer leads one to believe they might allow you to say no to selling your name eventually. And why might we expect that “one day” when it hasn’t happened in over forty years. Brookstone started in 1965. It hasn’t happened in the last few years when many junk mail companies have been meticulous about allowing their customers to opt-out of hawking their names all over the universe. It hasn’t happened most recently, when ID theft has become the number one consumer complaint.

Ego-Driven Greed

There is a method to their madness—whether it’s the hold-outs to openly offering the option to not sell your name, or those who do make the offer in the smallest print possible. Collectively, junk mailers believe they own your name and personal data, and can do with it as they please. The customer has no rights in the matter, prompted by the fact that industry-wide, the list business grosses over $4 billion annually from the sale of your names and sensitive data.

Why Should You Care?

Two good reasons. One, if you take back control over your name and private information, you could stop identity theft tomorrow. Two, with this control, you could demand compensation any time your name and personal data are sold. If you chose to sock this away like Social Security, it could provide a supplement to your retirement of an average of $607 monthly. With a new Congress, now is the time to tell your congressional representatives. Contact: House of Representatives; Senate.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Herrington Catalog Opts No Opt-Out

No Option for Name Use

We just received the latest Herrington “Enthusiasts” catalog, and I decided to check to see if they had changed their policy—from several years ago—of not offering the customer a simple box to check on the catalog order form that indicates they do not want their name sold to other junk mailers. Herrington has always stood out in the business as a major player who does not offer this option. So, no surprise that they still do not.

Customer Service Confirms Strange Logic of Owner

I decided to go to the catalog for more information, and e-mailed Herrington’s customer service asking why they do not extend this courtesy. Colleen answered me: “At this time Mr. Herrington has decided not to put this type of option in the order form inserted in the catalog.” Colleen continues by telling me this is a “good recommendation,” that she will forward it to “him,” and hopefully it will be put in future catalogs. Yeah. Sure. The problem here is that Herrington’s customer service representative is leading the customer to believe it might happen, which it hasn’t in 25 years.

Colleen does offer to flag my name so it won’t be sold to other junk mailers in the future. You can also do this by going online and clicking on “Privacy,” but you must either call an 800-number or type in their e-mail address on your browser; they do not provide a link. Yet another clever obstacle. However, I am providing it here. Two things in their favor: they don’t “share” e-mail addresses or telephone numbers.

Is It Greed Or Entrepreneurial Arrogance?

The junk mail industry was conceived and developed by a bunch of driven entrepreneurs working off their kitchen tables, some of which were arrogant and fixed in their ways. In the early days there was some defiance over spending the money to eliminate sending out duplicate mailings to the same household. Some still don’t. Then junk mailers—who gross over $4 billion annually from the sale of names and private information—predicted doom, when they were forced to include the option in their mailings to opt-out of future mailings. Some still don’t…like Herrington.

Inconsiderate or Irresponsible?

You’re inconsiderate if you fail to return someone’s telephone call. You are irresponsible if you do not do everything possible to allow customers control over whether they want their names sold in a fashion that subjects them to mail intrusion they may not want. This kind of policy is why we must pass federal legislation giving consumers control over their names and personal data. Tell your Congressional representative: Senate;House of Representatives.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

"Give Me Back My Credit" by Denise Richardson

Consumer Book Reads Like a Raymond Chandler Mystery

Anyone who has read Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep knows that the book’s protagonist, Philip Marlowe, is an honest detective in a corrupt world. He’s meticulous about detail, and always catches the culprit in the end. I have never reviewed a book on this blog, but when I read Give Me Back My Credit by Denise Richardson, it almost felt like I was back in Chandler’s Los Angeles. Denise’s narrative of her fight against mortgage companies and credit bureaus is both admirable and gut-wrenching, and it reads like a good mystery.

Innocent Consumer in a Corrupt Credit World

Like Marlowe, Denise wakes up in familiar surroundings one day to embark on a contradiction that will lead her through years of mental anguish against an establishment she thought was her friend. It will take fifteen years, but, akin to the Private Detective’s style, Denise will prevail in the end. And, folks, that’s what it takes in today’s fight to protect your sensitive data, particularly with the credit industry.

Once Upon a Time…Our Credit Was Sacred

This is the story of a bank, a collection company, and three credit bureaus. There are minor characters, but this group of five represents the battle that ensues over mortgage payments that aren’t applied correctly, promised follow-up that mysteriously vanishes, resulting in a prevailing arrogance and hostility against a customer who was right from the beginning. The culprit, all along, was the fact that the mortgage company used a coupon book, and provided no monthly statement of account.

Let the Nightmare Begin

In the book, Denise explains in great detail how she carefully documents payments for the bank that somehow aren’t already obvious. In this and future stages of the dispute, she will hear the phrase, “I’m sending it to research,” which many of you reading this will probably recognize. With repeated promises of fixing the problem, it takes forever to happen, and even when it does, there is a reversal later to the original dilemma. A collection agency enters the picture, even after Denise has her mortgage paid off, to collect a debt that doesn’t exist. Once it is reported to the three credit bureaus, she must then fight them for years to correct her credit report.

Why You Need to Read Give Me Back My Credit
Aside from a great mystery and excellent insight into the incompetence of those holding our private information in the mortgage and credit reporting industry, there are some great tips on how you can avoid the disasters that befall Denise Richardson. Here’s how to buy the book: or Buy Books on the You won’t be able to put it down.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Iraq War Not Only 2006 Election Message

Privacy Issue Was a Factor looked at the election, and found that between the Iraq war and the trillion-dollar deficit, voters were also concerned over their privacy. The article mentions identity theft as a potentially important issue in the 110th Congress, compared to the abysmal attention given this controversial problem by the bungling bunch in the 109th GOP controlled session. They even suggest that Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) might have lost votes to Democrat Sherrod Brown because DeWine approved of the NSA spying.

“Worst Data Bill Ever” Congressman Retains Seat

Rep. Steve LaTourette held on to his seat, even though he had introduced identity theft legislation that favored business heavily over the consumer. He was also instrumental in blocking state laws that allow the individual to freeze their credit data in fraud situations. Go figure. The 109th did hastily put through a bill making pretexting—posing as someone you aren’t to get another’s personal data—a criminal offense. It took a major upheaval at Hewlett Packard, eventually forcing Chairwoman Patricia Dunn out of her job.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Holds More Hearings

It would seem to me that we’ve heard enough with over 350 data breaches—since ChoicePoint’s debut in early 2005—totaling more than 94 million consumer private records lost, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Stop the hearings and start the legislation that will give consumers control over their names and personal data, and also pay them whenever it is sold.

The FTC story appeared in DM News, a junk mail industry publication that also reported participation at the hearing by Jeff Fox of Consumer Reports. Fox says a CR survey found that 72 percent of the public are concerned over the security of their private information. He also exclaims that CR is becoming more aggressive with their consumer coverage, a statement that makes me wonder why they haven’t taken the lead advocating individual control. A few years ago they actually declared that they felt consumers owned their financial data.

The Focus is on a Democratic Congress

Regardless of your political leanings, now is the time to let Congress know that your privacy is, in fact, a very important issue to you. If we’re ever going to get this grass-roots movement going, it will be in the next two years. Big Brother Bush may veto any privacy legislation, but then we’ll just have to replace the GOP in the White House in 2008. Contact your congressional leaders: House of Representatives; Senate.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Public Apathy Extends to 2006 Midterm Elections

Voter Turnout 40 Percent

OK, it was pitifully higher than the last midterm election in 2002 (39.7 percent), but that still means 60 percent of the eligible voting population did not vote. Millions of excuses, I am sure, but most of them don’t hold water when it comes to helping decide your country’s future. Emergencies excepted, every last American should have made their position known by voting for the politician that stands for what they believe. If you cannot find a perfect fit, pick the closest candidate to your beliefs. Or, simply vote against what you don’t want. summed it up in their story today, quoting a startling fact that the highest midterm turnout we’ve had in recent years was 42.1 percent in 1982. And the 60 percent non-voters in 2006 will probably be the loudest to complain in the future when something does not go their way. If you’re not happy, it’s your own fault. I will be satisfied if the GOP loses control in the Senate, and at least we have some new focus on the average citizen and away from the business interests.

124 Million Did Not Vote

According to the United States Election Project, there were 207 million people eligible to vote in the 2006 election. Since 40 percent (82.8 million) cast their votes, that leaves 124 million who did not. I wonder in that number just how many have had their privacy compromised. There are, of course, other matters of concern, but this blog is all about protecting your name and personal data. Therefore, that is my worry, since those millions have seen fit to cast themselves as “apathetics,” my term for a person who is detached, indifferent, unconcerned, disinterested about their well-being.

Out of the Mouths of Musicians

What ever you think of Kurt Cobain, or his music, his comment on apathy is symbolic of several stages in history, and speaks directly to the do-nothing crowd like those who didn’t vote in 2006. He said: “My generation’s apathy. I’m disgusted with it. I’m disgusted with my own apathy too, for being spineless and not always standing up against racism, sexism and all those other-isms the counterculture has been whining about for years.” Although he is talking of young people rejecting or opposing dominant values, the application is ageless. See this and more quotes re. apathy on

Where Do We Go From Here?

I don’t know where you are going but my direction is to fight to the end, and persuade whatever Congress we have that consumers must be given control over their names and private information. That they should be paid any time it is used in any way. And Congressional leaders, especially the new Democrat controlled House, must pass federal legislation giving individuals this right. Contact your representatives: SenateHouse.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Public Apathy Breeds Presidential and Congressional Abuse of Consumer Privacy Rights

The Scourge of Our Apathy

Helen Keller said it best: “Science may have found a cure for most evils, but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all—the apathy of human beings.” This was an amazing observation for this author and educator who was both blind and deaf. She penned it in 1927 in her book, My Religion. So the modern apathy movement of today has a history dating back at least 80 years. Actually it goes all the way back to the world’s most influential philosopher, Plato, who said in 428 BC: “The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”

Definition of Evil

According to Webster’s first definition, evil is being “morally bad or wrong.” The second reaches a little further, “causing pain or trouble; harmful; injurious. I will let you decide if this administration and Congress has reached either of these levels, but, due to the apathy of the American public, they are taking advantage of the fact that so many constituents are either out of touch with reality, have quit following the news, or are simply mired in a rut of oblivion. No matter the reason, as a bargaining force, the consumer has given up their right for a voice in control over their privacy.

Apathy is Everywhere

Apathy.Net had an interesting comment from one of its readers. Commenting on the cognitive dissonance—holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously—in the 2006 election, John quoted the NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll finding that only 16% of Americans approve of Congress’ job, yet 37% think Republicans should retain control in Congress. John, as we all should be, is astonished by the fact that these two figures mean 21% of those respondents disapprove of Congressional leaders, but still want them to continue doing what they are doing.

Indifference Toward the Republican Party’s Move toward Theocracy

In a project conducted by Cornell University titled, “The Rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party,” one of the undertaking’s headings is: “This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy.” Theocracy, of course, is a form of government where God or a deity is the supreme ruler. Continuing with the Cornell study, “It is about the manipulation of people of a certain faith for political power…Today’s hard right seeks total dominion. It’s packing the courts and rigging the rules.”

Cornell finds that voter apathy—meaning those who don’t vote or who do without being fully aware of the issues—is key to the recent surge of the theocratic right. And from my point of view, that has elected the Bush/Cheney administration and a Republican Congress that have no use for the privacy rights of the individual. One need only mention Bush’s NSA spying and Congress’ refusal to pass legislation to protect your sensitive data to make the point.

Apathy is Lethal

I found this line in a number of philanthropic organization appeals on the Internet. Pretty macabre, but effective in describing what happens if we don’t do something about the problems of the homeless, or AID’s victims, or the environment. And, that’s only domestic issues. Horace Greeley, newspaper editor in the 1800’s said, “Apathy is a sort of living oblivion.”

More on apathy later.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Big Brother Bush Strikes Again...At Bloggers

Bush Administration Throws Daggers

With 84 percent of the public not fully accepting the government’s strategy behind the “war on terror,” and support for the Iraq war plummeting, the Bush administration has had to, ”…sharpen their knives against the new breed of perceived ‘enemy propagandists,’ bloggers, journalists and online activists who dissent against the ‘war on terror.’” Read the story in Prison Although I try to keep unrelated politics out of this blog, this strikes at the heart of individual control over sensitive data.

The article, by Paul Joseph Watson, also comments on the hypocrisy of the Bush/Cheney dynasty, and the high level of deceit and propaganda directed toward the American people. How could they possibly point their fingers at anyone else, Watson concludes. But they have and The Dunning Letter is probably on some list of disgruntled bloggers that believe the Bush administration has over-stepped its authority in almost every area, but most of all, in the invading of the individual’s privacy.

Individual Legitimate Need for Privacy

In a ZDNet article by Declan McCullagh, FBI Director Robert Mueller talks of finding “…a balance between the legitimate need for privacy and law enforcement’s clear need for access.” This is like admitting the necessity to spy on innocent Americans, and at the same time saying you may even have to stack the scales against them. The legitimate right to privacy, although not covered in the Constitution—our country’s founders in their wildest imaginations could not have foreseen a Bush/Cheney Big Brother movement—is generally agreed to be an implied right.

Chertoff Blames Future Terrorism on Internet

Then, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff talks about “disaffected” people in this country developing “radical ideologies and potentially violent skills” as a threat to our security, according to Reuters. Because we are the melting pot of the world, people have been doing this for years. By contrast, in the past we have had a competent government to protect us. Today, that is no longer true. As is Chertoff’s whining about cyberspace, it is the normal approach to the problems of this country by the Bush administration.

I bring this up because another Bush rubber-stamper, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, wants ISP’s to retain your Web surfing activity, and make it available to the FBI. That would seem to fit in nicely with the DHS Secretary’s plans to stalk the Internet for “evil-doers.” Chertoff will send his field agents to “intelligence fusion centers” to work with local police agencies. Fusion centers are the feds’ latest answer to collecting and analyzing supposedly terrorism data, and making it available to the agencies that need it. On the other hand, civil libertarians see it as an extension to the Bush/Cheney Big Brother.

Control Your Name and Personal Data

If the people of the U.S. don’t get off their butts and demand control over their names and personal data soon, it will be too late. Call me a doomsday prophet, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this administration is going with its intimidation of the individual’s right to privacy. Within the next two years left to this president, you can expect a continued assault on your private information to build the Bush/Cheney power base, disguised in the name of fighting terrorism.

Contact your Congressional representatives now. House of Representatives. Senate.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Junk Mail Industry Holds Annual Convention - Ignores Consumer Privacy Problems

Junk Mailers Meet in San Francisco

The Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) annual convention is being held this year in San Francisco, the famous city by the bay. It started last Saturday and runs through Thursday of this week. I remember one I attended there when I first entered the junk mail business. I was the marketing guy for now defunct Sunset House of Los Angeles, one of those general merchandise catalogs that sold cheap products. The one thing I remember about that event—and the other 50 or so I attended over the next 25 years—was there was a lot of boozing and smoozing going on. Myself included.

The days were filled with meetings, workshops, and, of course, the huge exhibit hall that provided the vendors a place to display their wares. It is here that the list business—where I eventually ended up as a list broker—was in its heyday. I quickly learned that you had to go for the jugular, which meant acquiring new clients in any way you could. That is probably the reason that for years the broker of mailing lists has been characterized as the “prostitute” of junk mail.

Convention and Industry Need New Theme

But all parties must end and a serious side eventually prevail. I tell you this story as an analogy to the fact that the junk mail industry has never gotten serious over your privacy with real protection of your name and personal data. And once again in 2006, conventioneers are doing something else other than worrying about your sensitive data. Whether they are still boozing and smoozing or not, they aren’t addressing consumer privacy.

For the last few days I have been surfing the Internet for news of what is going on at the “show,” as the DMA calls it. Their theme, “Customers Are On A Journey…Be the Destination,” is catchy, but started me thinking of another version. My new account would read: “Customers Are On A Journey…Protect Them Along The Way.” But then I am biased toward the guardianship of your private information.

DMA06 Fails to Address Consumer Privacy

In checking the schedule of the six-day program, there is no serious coverage of consumer privacy. Nothing of substance that tells the DMA membership of almost five thousand companies that they must do a better job protecting sensitive data, or the identity crisis will become a catastrophe. But the daily sessions are crammed with advice on how to grab all the new customers you can, collect all the data about them that is available, and sell it anywhere they can.

It’s too late for this San Francisco convention, but not too late for the consumer to stand up and demand federal legislation that gives them control over their names and personal data. Folks, it is the only way to solve this problem, and we need your support to make it happen. Please let me hear from you.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Junk Mailers "Puzzled" Over Why Consumers Fear Outsourcing of Their Personal Data

Clinton Bill Stirs Frenzy in Junk Mail Industry

Right after I posted last Tuesday’s article, “More Meaningless ID Theft Legislation,” I received my latest copy of the junk mail publication, Direct Magazine. I still read this stuff because it provides a bridge between this blog and the object of its message: Junk mailers, and the fact that consumers should have control over their names and personal data, and be paid any time it is used.

The business of junk mail is basically a closed community to outsiders. Like its customers. They don’t want you to know they reap over $4 billion annually from your names and private information. They don’t want you to really find out what is being done with your sensitive data, because then you would realize just how precarious a situation it is in. How data breaches can and will continue to happen, leading to more ID theft crime. That’s why they are worried about Senator Clinton’s bill, The Privacy Rights and Oversight for Electronic and Commercial Transactions Act of 2006.

Still Missing the Point

Direct Magazine’s article, “Privacy Bill a Whopper,” carries a subtitle, “Clinton measure could be worrisome for any DMer that uses personal data.” It has always been this industry’s philosophy to worry about the junk mailers, but give limited thought to protecting the customer, much less compensate them for selling their sensitive data. This article, by Ken Magill, is no different, but it does throw in yet another bizarre statement, confirming this lack of concern for consumer rights.

Magill is “puzzled” why Clinton’s bill would prohibit companies from moving customers’ sensitive data overseas. Duh. With over 250 data breaches in this country alone since the 2005 ChoicePoint incident, amounting to more than 93 million private records, many readers of my blog are beginning to buy my concept: Pass federal legislation giving consumers control over their names and personal data, and pay them when it is sold.

Magill Outdumbed by His Own Article Interview Guest

Magill interviews someone by the name of Tricia Robinson, a V.P. for Premiere Global Services of Atlanta. This firm advertises itself as “…the world’s leading provider of outsourced document automation.” To paraphrase, Robinson indicates she can only “speculate” why Clinton would want to protect American citizens from data outsourcing, but surmises people feel safer with their private information in the U.S. rather than, say, India.

Actually, they probably don’t. And the reason is that we have had over 250 data breaches involving 93 million of those personal records in question in less than two years in the U.S. Ken, Tricia…they won’t be safe anywhere until the name-holder takes control.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

More Meaningless ID Theft Legislation

Same Tune…Another Hollow Chorus on Identity Theft

Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton, certainly with good intentions similar to other congressional leaders, has proposed yet another privacy bill. The Privacy Rights and Oversight for Electronic and Commercial Transactions Act of 2006 joins a host of bills already numbering seventeen on the subjects of privacy and identity theft. There are several good provisions.

Starting with an opt-in clause so it isn’t necessary to opt-out of anything you do not want. Keeping cell phone numbers private. Notification of victim in any data breach. And many of the already proposed sections such as free credit reports and the insuring of medical privacy standards. The bad guy is the bill’s stipulation exempting small companies. In my experience as a list broker in junk mail, the small-fry firms were the ones with the least security, but still warehousing the same private information.

Possible Drawbacks in Current Proposed Federal Legislation

This same article by Dave Eberhart on NewsMax, goes on to document some possible drawbacks if the federal legislation now being advanced is passed. Most important, any new federal law currently being proposed would pre-empt much stronger state legislation. The future roll of state attorneys general in policing privacy. Which agency in the federal bureaucracy should enforce the new law?

And the biggest problem—which, by the way, was not covered by Eberhart or any other of the media—with present federal bills introduced or state laws in effect. The fact that no one seems to think the consumer, the one whose sensitive data we are talking about, has the brains to manage this most important part of the protection to their privacy.

Answer to the Identity Crisis and the Big Brother Threat

Pass federal legislation giving consumers control over their names and personal data, and while we’re at it, pay them any time it is used. I did an earlier article on this you can see here. One of my points was: "It’s the Individual, Stupid." It emphasizes a solution so simple that government and business don’t see the possibilities. Or…they refuse to consider it because they lose control over this valuable asset.

Mass Public Apathy

An apathetic public—and this probably includes some readers of this blog—is just beginning to realize the calamity of identity theft. Combine that with twin Big Brothers Bush and Cheney and you have ample reason for grave concern. I am not sure what it will take to turn this accumulated detachment around, but I do know from experience, the more leeway you give the junk mail list industry, the greedier they will get. This can only result in more loss of sensitive data, and a bigger Big Brother on your doorstep.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Problem Worse Than Unsolicited Credit Cards

The Check’s In the Mail

If you carry any credit cards at all, you must be receiving those pesky convenience checks that urge you to take advantage of some promotional offer that probably includes low interest rates. They are tied in with the card’s “Available Credit” you have, plus your “Available for Cash” amount. The checks arrive either in their own solo envelope—usually an extra-special come-on—or they piggy-back with the monthly statement.

Endless Cornucopia

I have been saving my supply for the last several months just for this post—actually you should shred them, not just tear them in half and throw in the trash—to see just how many our family would receive. They come from Chase, Discover and American Express, and we were actually shocked at how many we had accumulated. Just over one-hundred for the year. An average of 8.5 per month. That’s eight times each month our family is ripe for identity theft. It can happen, and it did.

Innocent Victims

The folks it did happen to—not us—were on vacation, with a relative house-sitting. They had one of those rural type mailboxes out front, and apparently the mail was not retrieved from the box each day. The night raiders—it was thought to be an organized gang—swooped through the neighborhood, and, voila, found the unfetched mail. Discover called the family—Chase did not—when they observed uncommon activity on their card. Chase was also notified.

The Good News and the Bad News

The good news is that there was no monetary loss, since the credit card companies assume most of the liability in these cases. The bad news is that the ID thief, when stopped by the police, had a driver’s license in the name of a member of the victim family. The female culprit had multiple licenses in her possession, thus, the assumption this was a crime ring. Although they hope to have confiscated all the fraudulent materials, there is no guarantee. Especially when it is an organized effort.

New Procedures Needed Now

I checked my inventory of unsolicited checks, and there is no information provided that would allow the recipient to opt-out of receiving these checks. Several years ago, it was made illegal to send unsolicited credit cards in the mail; still, they constantly shower us with unsolicited credit card offers that are almost as dangerous, although you can opt-out from those. Convenience checks need similar regulation, and Beth Givens, Director and Founder of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, has urged the Federal Reserve Board to do just that.

In comments to Jennifer Johnson, Secretary, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Ms. Givens, along with representatives from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and US Public Interest Research Group, submitted a proposal to modify Regulation Z of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). That was March of 2005.

Regulation Z is the part of the TILA that controls disclosures of the terms of credit offers, and procedures such as opting out. As of this date, the group has had no response, but does have hope the issue is under consideration.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Abrogation of an Ineffectual Congress

If “con” is the opposite of “pro,” then what is the opposite of “progress?” The answer, of course, is Con-gress. From the consumer newsletter, FACT Finder

Unfavorable Consumer Laws Can Be Repealed

It would appear that we may be headed toward the defeat of a Republican Congress that has busied itself the last several years in either passing legislation that benefits only an imperial presidency and big business, or completely thwarting any new law that would support consumers. Now, all that is left are the Democrats that have forgotten the main plank of their party: protecting individual rights. Once accomplished, we can move on to the repeal of recently enacted law that threatens the private lives of U.S. citizens.

The Abrogation of the Patriot Act

Right on the top of my list of bills to repeal is the USA Patriot Act, along with its recent amendment. No matter what constraints the latter put on snoops, they still have the right to pry into our inner sanctum at almost every level. Next, the National Security Surveillance Act of 2006 that re-approved Bush’s NSA spying, and which now authorizes his electronic surveillance without a court order. The Financial Services Reform Bill passed in 1999, which allowed the financial business to share consumer information between affiliates and non-affiliates. There’s more, but you get the idea.

U.S. Law Can Be Repealed

Probably some of the most famous examples of abrogation were state racial laws restricting the rights of minorities that were repealed after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Even portions of a law can be repealed, leaving the rest intact. Black’s Law Dictionary cites two kinds of abrogation. One, enacting a subsequent statute, which declares that the former law shall be revoked, called “express” repeal. Two, the succeeding law carries provisions so contrary or reconcilable, which is called “implied” appeal.

Vote and Abrogate

First, you need to vote in November for the congressional representative that you feel will honor your right to privacy. I suggest you go to their web site(s) and see what kind of attitude they have toward consumer issues. If you don’t see a clear position, e-mail them and ask. Once we have elected a Congress compatible to the needs of individual rights, we can start hammering away to get some of this bad law off the books, and pass new bills that will deal with protecting our privacy. Here are the sites for contacting congressional leaders: House of Representatives; Senate.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bush/Cheney Reinvent Big Brother IV

Cheney the Manipulator

It’s obvious who pulls the strings in this administration, but it’s hard to determine whose nose should grow the longest for the most lies; Cheney, the manipulator, or Bush, the puppet. For deceit, however, Cheney is the master. From the Iraq war to wire tapping, there is little the man hasn’t stooped to in order to get what he wants. And I say “he” because it is he who is running the show. Of course, with the help of Donald Rumsfeld and Karl Rove.

Cheney’s Dark, Dark Side

We should have had a clue when he told Tim Russert of NBC, that the government would have to respond to the September 11, 2001 attacks by having to work on the dark side. That was September 16, and, of course, no one questioned it. Cheney goes on to say, “A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly…” What he didn’t say was that it would all be done in secrecy, sometimes even excluding the U.S. Congress.

Not Satisfied Just Pushing it, Now He Sponsors Legislation

Fast forward to the Fall of 2006, where the VP is sponsoring a bill with Senator Specter to make what Bush has already done illegally in the NSA spying incident, legal. Without warrants or independent checks, the spooks can listen to your phone calls and read your e-mails at will.

He also is sponsoring a bill in the House of Representatives with Heather Wilson (R, NM) to allow Bush to secretly search your home, business, conversations, and e-mails without warrants. The ACLU says both bills redefine the meaning of electronic surveillance to allow more warrantless spying on Americans through the back door.

Frist Apparently Fails on the Senate Bill

The latest word is that the wiretapping Senate bill will not make it before Congress adjourns this weekend. Earlier, Senator Frist, from Tennessee, had combined it with the legislation to gut the Geneva Conventions, in a move to piggy-back the two and make GOP points for the November election. The House is still working on its version.

Bush’s Illegal Wiretapping Impeachable, as Was Richard Nixon’s

John Dean, former Nixon White House staffer, in a FindLaw article, says: “There can be no serious question that warrantless wiretapping, in violation of the law, is impeachable. After all, Nixon was charged in Article II of his bill of impeachment with illegal wiretapping for what he, too, claimed were national security reasons.” He proceeds to say that Bush may have outdone Nixon, because of the scope of the NSA spying.

Dean also has comments on Cheney. He feels “Tricky Dick II” never got over when Congress placed checks on Ford’s presidency, and Cheney was chief of staff. Apparently it’s been simmering for all these years, and in a calamitous opportunity for Bush/Cheney, it came to a boil on September 11, 2001.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

FTC Drops the Ball...Again

Can’t Reach a Human? You’re Not Alone

I can deal with talking to an automated telephone system when it comes to getting my latest bank balance, or calling the airlines for flight arrivals. I cannot tolerate this electronic technology when a series of button commands could not possibly answer my question. That was the case in my recent Experian incident, and many of your comments indicated you have had the same problem. The credit reporting company even denied my right to dispute at one point.

Shouldn’t Credit Reporting Agencies Be Required to Talk to Us?

When someone is handling information as delicate as your credit history, and you are in a critical situation requiring immediate attention, contact with a competent human being should be a given. It isn’t at Experian. It took me 14 e-mails to pry a telephone number out of the most incompetent crew of customer service representatives I have ever experienced. And then, when at the top of the pecking order, with my dilemma still unsolved, the guy left me stranded, telling me there was no more he could do for me.

Who You Know Still Works Best

It was only after asking a privacy colleague for help that I got the telephone number that did the job. Bingo. Problem solved in a couple of days, and after two follow-up calls—these people never return the first call—a credit was issued for the two months I was not able to access my credit report from Credit Manager.

Apparently, the fact that thousands of consumers cannot reach a human being at the big three credit reporting agencies, isn’t a priority for the FTC. Not satisfied yet, I am researching the Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and Gramm-Leach-Bliley to determine if there is any stipulation in either of the bills to cover this issue. More on this later.

FTC’s Strike Number Two

Eight months after the Federal Trade Commission’s settlement with ChoicePoint—the gang that started the tide of data breaches in 2005—a $5 million fund for the 800 victims hasn’t paid out a penny. The FTC shouted success and waved flags exclaiming “look what we did,” but failed to plan just how to do it. Sounds like the other gang that thought they could coast after the Iraq war.

It is all very discouraging, because it shows a bureaucratic unwillingness to do something about the identity crisis from the Bush administration, to Congress, right on down to the government agencies that are supposed to regulate this issue. More fodder for my concept that consumers should control their names and personal data, and be paid any time they are used.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Analyzing Bush's Information Sharing Environment (ISE)

What is the ISE?

The Information Sharing Environment (ISE) is a cooperative effort between the federal government, state, local and tribal governments, and the private sector to share appropriate information related to terrorist threats. It is mandated in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act signed by President Bush in December of 2004. It resulted from the feds’ incompetence between the CIA and FBI in the sharing of intelligence prior to 9/11.

ChoicePoint’s Terrorist Database?

I don’t think so. As far as I know—and I spent 35 years in junk mail dealing with data brokers like ChoicePoint—their forte is collecting and selling your names and personal data. And that is the only reason the Bush administration would include the “private sector” in this latest attack on your privacy. It is just another way to spy on innocent American households, after getting whacked on the NSA spying.

Where’s the Justification?

We all probably agree that had the FBI told the CIA what it knew about questionable flying school students, and had the CIA alerted the FBI that there was a potential attack on the U.S. involving the use of an airliner; things probably would have turned out different on September 11, 2001. There is also the possibility that any private information available from these data brokers re. the 9/11 hijackers—many of which were known by both the FBI and CIA—could have sealed the deal and exposed them prior to the incident. But why is it necessary to spy on innocent U.S. citizens in the process?

How They Do It

The data mining/predictive modeling that was going on at the NSA involved a series of data inputs—including all the sensitive data about your household—which was manipulated in such a way that would establish a pattern of potential threat to the U.S. To find the bad guys in this procedure, you must first rule out the good guys, and that is you. Therefore, your personal data is basically scrutinized to the same extent as would be a potential terrorist. And that is the problem.

The Problem Gets Worse

On top of everything else, the private sector is using incorrect data (ChoicePoint scored 73% errors in their background reports by the Privacy Activism organization), and we are all at the mercy of the human being conducting the data mining. This individual(s) makes subjective decisions based on parameters established at the beginning of the modeling procedure. What I am saying—and that is based on 20 years experience in predictive modeling—is that this is yet another context in which your privacy is significantly challenged.

Who Do You Trust?

First of all, I wouldn’t trust this administration with my sensitive data under any circumstances. Second, considering the incompetence of Bush and his cronies, ISE will either never become a reality, or it will be so screwed up, it will have to be aborted like the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program. And third, when we rid the legislature in November of the “special interest” GOP members, then we can get back to assigning the right priorities for this country’s protection.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pretexting Is Just the Latest Buzzword, Not the Problem

The Problem Is Who Warehouses Your Names and Personal Data

Yes, “pretexting” is another unwanted complication in the identity crisis, but the real problem is the data brokers that aggregate your names and private information into a neat bundle and sell it to the information brokers that do the pretexting. To name the biggest, ChoicePoint, Acxiom, LexisNexis, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. There are hundreds more smaller companies, and the Big Six are not only the biggest, but, in most cases, the ones who collect the personal data and disseminate it to the others.

Abysmal Track Record in Accuracy

In a study by the Privacy Activism group, they found inaccuracies in 67% of Acxiom consumer reports, 73% for ChoicePoint. This included errors in basic data such as name, Social Security number, address and phone number. The Big Three Credit Bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, had mixed results. Rated as a group, not individually, the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) found that 25% of the Big Three credit reports had errors serious enough to deny credit. Overall, the mistake level was 79%. A Federal Reserve Bank study in 2005 of mistakes reported by consumers in their credit reports was in a range of from 20 to 40 percent.

Your Private Information Available Worldwide

When you “Google” information brokers—as distinguished from data brokers—using “quotes,” you get a total of 319,000, with 90 in the U.S., 243 in Europe, and 100 in Australia. That leaves the remaining some 318,500 distributed throughout the rest of the world. If a Nigerian information broker was pretexting in America, he would most likely have to get his data from one of the Big Six data brokers. You may remember that the perpetrator of the data breach at ChoicePoint that opened the identity crisis in February of 2005 was Nigerian-born Olatunji Oluwatosin. And, it isn’t clear if one of the Big Six would release private information to a pretexter of Nigerian origin, because they don’t identify their clients.


The data brokers will continue to collect every piece of your personal data they can, and sell it to any information broker they want until you put a stop to it by demanding federal legislation that will give you control over your name and private information. The elections are coming. Now is the time to contact Congressional representatives: House of Representatives; Senate.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Identity Crisis Won't End Until the Consumer Takes Control over Their Name and Personal Data

There is No Data Security Today

Pretexting, data breaches, lost laptops…call it what you want. They all put your private information in harm’s way, and set the stage for an identity crisis in your household. And even if you don’t suffer a loss—and I sincerely hope you do not—doesn’t it bother you just a little that the details of your life and your daily routine are in multiple databases around the world? It should, unless you are comfortable living in a glass house.

Voracious Appetite for Personal Data

There will always be a demand for consumers’ personal data for purposes of marketing, research, and applications we haven’t even thought of yet. So why not stop right now and level the playing field.

It’s the Individual, Stupid

Place the responsibility for protection with the individual by forcing Congress to pass legislation giving you control over your name and private information. This same legislation should include a stipulation that the consumer be paid each time his or her name and personal data is sold.

This means you must be made aware of and approve any transaction using it. That would make any unsanctioned source of your sensitive data useless, since the phone company, credit bureau, financial institution, or whoever is being contacted for your data cannot release it without your approval. And, the authorization process has been incorporated into a system I have developed.

Here’s How it Works

With a unique ID which will completely replace the Social Security number for purposes of identification, any critical activity involving the use of your name and/or private information would be subject to your approval. This would be handled by a simplified process executed by e-mail or telephone message, taking only minutes for each event. You will also be able to opt-in, not have to opt-out, in receiving any junk mail offers. This almost effortless and sophisticated procedure of notification would also document each sale of your data, and provide reports on the amount you are due.

Let Congress Know You’re Mad as Hell and Not Going to take it Anymore

After 35 years in junk mail selling your name and personal data, and acting as a predictive modeling and database consultant, I know the concept is valid and could be implemented. If you would like to put an end to the panic of potential ID theft, let you Congressional representatives know how you feel. Contact the House of Representatives. Contact the Senate. TODAY!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Hewlett Packard Chairwoman, Patricia Dunn, Confirms What Corporate America Thinks About Your Personal Data

Spying on Your Board of Directors?

She said she didn’t realize investigators would use compromising techniques to obtain private phone records of Hewlett Packard’s board members. Where the hell did she think they came from, the cabbage patch? Apparently Patricia Dunn, Chairwoman of HP, does not read or watch news that regularly covers the shady way these data brokers get their information. It’s called “pretexting” and they pose as either the target individual, or an official source, using the person’s personal data: Social Security number, date of birth, etc.

CA AG calls It a Crime

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has decided a crime has been committed, but he isn’t sure just who to charge yet, according to David Kaplan’s article, “Suspicions and Spies in Silicon Valley,” in Newsweek and on MSNBC. The privacy invasion included the Hewlett Packard board members, as well as journalists from CNET, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week magazine, and The New York Times, according to another MSNBC piece, “U.S. Attorney’s Office looks into HP scandal.”

Aware or Not, a Crime Against all Consumers

Whether or not Patricia Dunn knew what she was doing—anyway, where were her advisors?—it is another blatant act by corporate America that indicates just how little it values your private information. In a recent post, “It’s Monday Morning. Do You Know Where Your Name Is?” I talk about this general disregard for consumers’ sensitive data, and the reason we need federal legislation giving you control over your name and personal data.

Join the grass-roots movement and let me hear from you.

Next: Follow-up on Experian and my LOST Credit Report

It was July 12 when I attempted to access my credit report from Credit Manager, a service for which I pay $90 annually. It is an excellent means to check for identity theft, or any mistakes you might suspect are in your report. My credit report was blank. No information. After 14 e-mails and more telephone calls I care to mention, a supervisor at Credit Manager said, although he, himself, could not even get to my report, there was no more he could do, and I must talk with Experian, one of the big-three credit bureaus, of which Credit Manager is a subsidiary.

See prior stories: “Level of competence at Experian Credit Bureau Found to Be Low,” and “Experian Denies My Right to Dispute Credit Report Problem.”

Incompetence on Top of Incompetence

After suffering through the most incompetent group of customer “service” people I have ever experienced, I was ready to try anything. To make a long story short, Experian refused to even sell me a credit report, and then refused to allow me to dispute what was going on. That did it, and I contacted someone I knew at one of the largest privacy organizations in the country. I was given a name at Experian to e-mail and call. It still took two e-mails and one phone call to talk to this person. That was on September 5. I wasn’t able to access my credit report until Monday, Sept. 11—two months denied access—and the person at Experian has yet to contact me to let me know the problem was fixed.

Experian also maintains several databases with additional sensitive information on just about every household in the country…as well as credit data. Doesn’t this just cry out for that federal legislation to give you control?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

BULLETIN: Congress Tries Back Door for Bush Spying

Legislation Planned Would Anoint Bush/Cheney as Big Brother

There are three bills before Congress that threaten your Constitution and your privacy. They would give the president exclusive power to spy on your phone calls and e-mails at will, without a warrant. At the same time, exonerating any official complicit in the government’s past illegal spying program. They would also allow the Bush administration to bypass judicial approval for these activities, deciding for themselves whether to follow the Constitution.

Cheney Co-Sponsor on two of the Bills

The three bills are the Cheney-Specter version (S. 2453), Senator DeWine’s “Terrorist Surveillance Program Act of 2006” (S.2455), and the Cheney-Wilson House Bill (H.R. 5825). You’ll note whose name appears on two of the bills. Apparently the V.P. has run out of misinformation to spread around. All three are ludicrous and an insult to our intelligence.

Contact Your Congressional Representative

You can contact your Congressional representatives by clicking here: ACLU Had Enough? Tell them you’re fed up and you’re not going to take this anymore. It’s time we put an end to the Bush/Cheney grasp for monarchy. If any of the three bills are allowed to pass, we will be approaching the tyrannical state predicted by George Orwell's 1984, and Big Brother will be on our doorstep.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Bush/Cheney Reinvent Big Brother III

Nixon, Although Sneaky, At Least Had His Capable Moments

Molly Ivins is one of my favorite columnists. She has a great political mind and an amazing ability to put the right words together that always seem to hit the point. She did this particularly well in her August 21, 2006, piece, “Big Brother Bush,” posted on AlterNet. It drew some comparisons between Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, with the latter not even finishing as a contender. “Testy Kid,” as she describes Bush, can’t even uphold the Constitution that put him in office.

Nixon Also Gave Us Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld

Ivins cites as an example of Bush’s Big Brother, the Pentagon’s giant data-mining program called Total Information Awareness (TIA), designed to tie databases together world-wide, and use the data to spy on anyone they chose. After pressure from just about everybody, the TIA was shut down, or as Molly puts it: “As often happens with this administration, it turned out they just changed the name and made the program less visible.”

Working in the background during all this time were graduates of Nixon’s regular classes on Deceit: 101, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, taking the reins on every available means to pry into the lives of innocent Americans.

TIA Sets Stage for NSA Spying

Then someone convinced the gung ho Bush that using the very secretive National Security Agency (NSA) to do this surveillance of U.S. citizens could keep it all under wraps and, once again, the Constitution be damned, full speed ahead. Fortunately, the New York Times exposed this attempt, and it ended up in Judge Anna Diggs Taylor’s court. Her decision was that the NSA’s warrant-less surveillance authorized by George W. Bush was unconstitutional.

This decision, of course is being appealed by the administration, and you will want to read in The Village Voice August 26, 2006, article, “George Bush: Recidivist,” by Nat Hentoff, on how the Justice department strong-armed Taylor to dismiss the case.

If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Discredit ‘em

Although Bush and his cronies once again used their hackneyed strategy, “if you’re agin us, you must be wrong,” a respected law professor, Laurence Tribe, recognized as one of the foremost constitutional law experts and Supreme Court practitioners in the U.S., considers her decision “splendid.”

But then, along came Republican Senator Arlen Specter to prop up the President and try to bail out the entire administration for violating the law, and the Constitution. Nat Hentoff strikes again on September 1, in “Arlen Specter’s Sellout,” his article on Specter’s attempt to pass legislation giving the administration a way to prevent going to the slammer. This, when Specter has stated before his belief that Bush did violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires a president to present programs of this nature to a special court for approval.

How Did We Get Here, and What Do We Do Now?

If you really don’t know how we got to this point where our privacy is in constant jeopardy—and I doubt many don’t—I will tell you much in the same way George Orwell told his readers in the classic novel, 1984: Big Brother is watching you. Although simple, it predicted a tyrannical state in the future that could usurp all our freedoms. I believe we are very close to realizing Orwell’s prediction. If we don’t wake up and take control of our privacy, Big Brother is imminent.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bush/Cheney Reinvent Big Brother II

Playing Big Brother Becomes Illegal

In mid-August, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor decided to cut Bush’s NSA wiretapping program off at the knees: “Federal judge orders end to wiretap program.” I say, “at the knees,” because the administration appealed and asked for a stay of the ruling: “Judge Finds NSA Program Unconstitutional.”

Coincidence? I Think Not!

About one week later, Seattle-based Cray Inc. and the U.S. Energy Department announced an increase in their supercomputer, Jaguar, located at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, to 54 teraflops: “U.S. supercomputer gets speedier.” To us humans, that means the ability to do 54 trillion mathematical calculations per second. Like I said in my two earlier posts, “Yes Virginia, Data Mining Can Catch Terrorists,” and “It’s Monday Morning. Do you Know Where Your Name Is?” the future in spying is data-mining…to anticipate and predicts your every move. No coincidence here. Just more Bush and company deceit to get what they want.

The Jeopardy Of Not Controlling Your Personal Data

In 2004, the General Accounting Office did a report, revealing that federal agencies had initiated 199 data-mining efforts, with 131 already operational: “Perspective: Government data-mining lives on.” Included was Homeland Security’s “Incident Data Mart,” comprised of state, local and federal police data. The FBI has its own data mart, built to catch illegal aliens. The Defense Intelligence Agency has four projects, mining from the intelligence community and the Internet to catch terrorists. All probably legitimate in purpose, but deadly to the privacy of the innocent, American public.

Big Brother Regroups and Always Strikes Again

The Bush administration, with Cheney’s hands clearly on the reins, and the rest of the stooges riding shotgun, will not give it up until they are stopped by U.S. consumers that realize the tyranny of the situation. We can start this November by voting out a Republican majority afraid to “rein-in” this president and his acrimonious accomplice.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bush/Cheney Reinvent Big Brother

Big Brother Is Watching You

On her site Orwell, Jackie Jura describes an unseen, yet, all-seeing Big Brother with eyes that follow you wherever you go. The caption says, Big Brother Is Watching You, and in George Orwell’s dystopic novel, 1984, the Party knew everything there was to know about the citizens of Oceania. The Party’s three slogans were: War Is Peace; Freedom Is Slavery; and Ignorance Is Strength.

After some reflection, all three would mimic the absurd in any free society. Each assumes, of course, a government objective that has decided it knows what’s best for its citizens, and will not be told otherwise. When you consider the world body charged with protecting all nations against war, and promoting humanitarian causes, the United Nations, there is an eerie, self-serving realization that comes to mind

First, without war, the UN is out of business. Second, if freedom prevailed around the world, global humanitarianism would be in far-less demand; and, three, the “ignorance is strength” premise is not only UN driven, but a basic priority for any government that, while espousing democracy, practices tyranny.

Bush/Cheney Simply Redesign Orwell’s Despot

Anyone who thinks the Bush/Cheney administration has not evolved into a totalitarian regime, needs to explain to me the other meaning of Bush’s comment that “You’re either with us or against us,” proclaimed as a mandate to our former close allies. Followed by “Trust me to get it right,” a statement that this president apparently will never fulfill on any level. A mellower Big Brother, but, nevertheless, still its personification.

Another stupid statement like, “Bring it on,” which they did, and which gave the Bush/Cheney bunch the twisted logic of spying on innocent Americans to uncover the bad guys, because they don’t have the leadership skills to fight terror. You can read about this and other “national nightmares” of this administration, as described by the author, Mark Medish, in his 2004 article, “Four more years for Big Brother.”

He draws an excellent comparison with Orwell’s “War Is Peace,” in Medish’s own words, “…war is also profit.” He is referring, of course, to Halliburton’s no-bid, Iraqi contract, a company Dick Cheney ran before becoming vice president.

Opinion Writer Investigated for Sedition

In a bizarre case of “no one questions Big Brother,”—AKA George W. Bush—Laura Berg, a VA nurse from Albuquerque, wrote a letter in September of 2005 to, titled, “Wake Up, Get Real,” which lambasted the Bush administration for its Iraq War and Katrina incompetence, and suggested Bush, Cheney, Chertoff, Brown and Rice be tried for criminal negligence. The article, “Big Brother is Watching,” by Steven Robert Allen, reports that Berg was being investigated for sedition, apparently due to her criticism of the Bush administration.

Berg is being represented by ACLU lawyers, George Bach and Larry Kronen, for the charge that she was suspected of writing the letter on government time, property, and using government equipment. However, Mel Hooker, Chief of Human Resource Management Service at the VA, later said that no evidence was found implicating the use of Berg’s work computer, according to the ACLU. Pathetic.

Can you recall the last time when an American citizen was charged with sedition— a crime indicating insurrection or rebellion against the government—for writing an opinion piece criticizing their government?

Next post: some observations on “Big Brother Bush” from my favorite columnist, Molly Ivins.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Experian Denies My Right to Dispute Credit Report Problem

Why Is Experian So Elusive?

In my last post on August 9, “Level of Competence at Experian Credit Bureau Found to Be Low,” I was unable to get my credit report from Experian’s Credit Manager, where I have been a member for over twenty-five years, paying $90 annually for the service. After hours on the Internet and telephone with Credit Manager personnel who turned out to be completely useless—and being regularly “escalated” to the “right” people—I finally reached a supervisor who was known as…the Escalation Manager.

Mark sounded competent, acted like he wanted to help, and spent another hour covering the same material as the “useless” bunch. I was wrong. He couldn’t help me, even if he wanted to. Something was also blocking Mark—the Credit Manager Escalation Manager, no less—from accessing my credit report.

Impossible to File Dispute With Experian

When I requested that Mark fix the problem, the answer was that Experian wouldn’t let him. It made no difference that I made my membership payment to and received my credit reports from Credit Manager. I would have to contact Experian direct to file a dispute, which he “hoped” would solve everything.

After a brief out-of-town trip, I tried to file an online dispute with Experian, giving them every possible bit of personal ID necessary to identify me. The result was a message labeled, “Error.” “We are unable to allow access to our online dispute services at this time.” I thought, by law, they were required to take credit disputes, which I am researching.

Then, a call was made to Experian with a phone number supplied by Mark. I was denied access to my credit report again in an automated telephone call from the number he provided, with the words, “We are unable to process your order.” Then, amazingly, they instructed me to order a credit report by mail, giving me an address. Why? To receive a letter stating that they are unable to process my order by mail? There was absolutely no way to reach a human being from this telephone number, so I called the “useless” folks again.

“Useless” Staff Refuse Dispute Help

All I wanted was for someone to give me an address to file a dispute. As usual, I was “escalated” to the “right” people, but they all refused to give me the “dispute” address. Finally, the last guy noticed my prior activity with Mark, and once again “escalated” me to the Escalation Manager. After a five minute wait, “Mr. Useless” came back on and told me to call Mark in one hour. I did and left word on his voicemail, then had to call back the next day.

Mark, the Escalation Manager, returned my second call, had nothing new to offer, and basically told me there was no more that he could do, intimating that I was on my own. He refused to call his parent, Experian, about my problem, had absolutely no suggestion other than another phone number he was rummaging around in his desk to find, while cautioning me at the same time that he had no idea if it would work. I declined and hung up.

Why has the entire Experian Credit Manager staff been so deceptive in dealing with me in this matter, and why doesn’t Experian provide them with a direct line when everything else fails, as it has in this case? Mark replied to this question by stating that Experian does not want the telephone calls. In other words, just wear them down, as they have in my case, and maybe they will go away. I won’t.

Conspiracy Theory

But could I be wrong about the incompetency? The treatment by Experian’s Credit Manager staff sure seems like I am being jerked around in a concentrated effort to prevent me from seeing my credit records. And, that is my right so that I can protect my family against identity theft.

I’m beginning to smell a conspiracy, a veiled attempt at a warning from the junk mail industry, based on the fact that The Dunning Letter has repeatedly criticized data brokers like Experian—they maintain a database of over 215 million consumers nationwide, with a significant amount of private information other than your credit records—and I am advocating federal legislation to give consumers control over their names and personal data.

More on this later.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Level of Competence at Experian Credit Bureau Found to Be Low

Identity Theft Concern

I am a member of Credit Expert, Experian’s Credit Manager service that normally provides me instant online access to my credit report. I pay $90 annually for this membership, and have been a loyal customer for over twenty-five years. Until today. During a periodic checkup to insure against identity theft, I was unable to get to my data. That was July 12, four weeks ago.

After 14 e-mails, all of which resulted in no resolution from a staff so inadequate it is incomprehensible they hold their jobs, I finally received a telephone number to call. Apparently, I had gone through this boiler room full of dummies—God only knows where they were—and at least one had the inclination to hand me off to someone else. That was last Friday, July 28.

After another complete explanation to someone equally as inept by the name of Bemi, I was put on hold several times for durations up to three minutes. I’m guessing that wasn’t enough since he finally got back to me with the answer that my problem had been “escalated” to the proper party, and I would hear from them within 48 hours.

The “problem” is that I cannot check my credit report to make sure there is nothing going on that is fraudulent. It involves logging on to Credit Expert, then proceeding to look at “inquiries;” anyone that has accessed my credit report. At the same time you can scan all your credit history, and confirm that the data is correct. That is, if you can get to it. I couldn’t.

248 Names, Personal Data Breaches Since 2005

Since ChoicePoint started the parade in February of 2005, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse reports almost 250 breaches of sensitive data in everything from Social Security numbers to medical records. Just fewer than 90 million records of your private information was on the open market, at least temporarily, even if it was eventually recovered. And for what hasn’t been recovered, don’t feel any comfort in the fact that you, personally, haven’t experienced fraud. The new identity criminal is smart, and willing to wait until the heat is off to tear into your credit.

I didn’t see Experian on the list of breaches—TransUnion, another credit bureau, was—but if the frontal guard I dealt with is any indication of the rest of the company’s proficiency, they are due any day. I worked with this organization—as well as Equifax and TransUnion—during my 35 years selling names and personal data in the junk mail industry. It is this experience, among others, that led me into privacy activism, and the launch of this blog.

Nowhere to Turn for Credit Dispute

Returning to the Experian episode, there was no call or e-mail in over 72 hours, so another contact was made. This time, I started with a quick explanation of the situation, with a demand to speak to a supervisor. Anthony sounded somewhat competent, but with absolutely no authority to help me in any way; it took over an hour to learn this. He could only listen and “escalate” the problem elsewhere.

Anthony gave me a telephone number to request an immediate credit report, and file a dispute over my credit report that was inaccessible. Result, it was “automated response” only, and I must purchase a credit report for $10 before I can file the dispute, with no human being within miles. Upon recalling Anthony, he confirmed all this, at which time I almost went postal.

The outcome was that he was again “escalating” my problem to the right people, and he would have them call me within two hours. They didn’t, but I did hear from someone at Credit Expert later in the day. He was late responding because Anthony hadn’t given him proper contact information.

But, you’d never guess who called. The Escalation Manager. More on this later.