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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Veterans Discharged After Vietnam...Beware Stolen Data

It’s hot news today, and worth a quick post to get out the word. It also underscores my fight to give U.S. consumers the right to control their names and personal data. If we had that right, there would be no need for the millions of veterans to worry about their identity being stolen, after the recent data theft.

What happened was that the private information of 26.5 million veterans was lifted from the Veterans Administration in another bizarre example of loose security. Those affected are discharges after 1975, or those who submitted claims to the agency before 1975.

According to Consumers Union, information such as names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth—all that is necessary to steal your life—were stolen from the home of a long-term employee. The data was downloaded to his or her home computer, which was stolen in the burglary. No indication from the VA why this moron was “allowed” to capture such sensitive, private information, supposedly protected by security.

In an article, “U.S. Veterans Data Stolen, VA Shows Little Concern Over Data Theft,” by Dave Porter, the VA has yet to explain why they waited until now—the data was taken early May—to make the announcement. This is, in fact, required by law in several states—remember California’s law and ChoicePoint?—and just another example of government incompetence.

And, while on that subject, Porter tells us that George W. Bush just got around to establishing a task force on identity theft on May 10, giving his henchman AG, Alberto Gonzales, the go-ahead to exercise zero tolerance in the prosecution of data loss cases. Yeah, right. At the same time one of the biggest culprits, ChoicePoint, continues to enjoy lucrative government contracts.

So, what to do? There’s a VA telephone number to call but I heard the incompetence persists even there. It is (800) 333-4636. If you get a letter from the VA, and you live in a state that allows a security freeze on your credit files, you have to consider this in relation to the risk. I suggest a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies, spread out over a period of time that, hopefully, will either allow recovery of the data, or the circumstances are too hot for the ID thieves to act.

Beth Givens, Director, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC), warns veterans and their families to monitor their financial picture “indefinitely.” What does that tell you about their future? If you go to the PRC web site, there is a Chronology of Data Breaches showing close to 82 million American consumers who have had their personal data compromised since February 2005.

Folks, it’s time to voice your support for my goal of passing federal legislation giving you control over your name and private information. And, pay you, when it is sold. Let your local print and broadcast media know what you think. Contact your representative in the House, and your Senator.

Dave Porter said it best. “The one way you'd get lawmakers to pass legislation that would control how data is managed would be to go to Visa or Mastercard and buy the personal information on them and start posting it online.” He goes on to say what I have been saying for months, that there is no meaningful identity theft legislation in the works. He also agrees that it is lobbying money that has put us in this position.

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