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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

British Consumers Aren't Stupid Either

No, consumers in the United Kingdom aren’t stupid; as we also agreed in my last post, neither are Americans. The big difference is that the Brits are doing something about it, and this country isn’t. By “country” I mean the Bush administration, congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, and you, the consumer.

You can forget the Bush/Cheney duet when it comes to going to bat for the average individual. If neither business nor the moneyed elite profit in the transaction, there’s absolutely no interest on their part.

And then, while Washington flounders in a mass of mostly meaningless legislation on identity theft, the U.K. has had the Data Protection Act (DPA) since 1998, which seeks to strike a balance between the rights of individuals and the sometimes competing interests of business. Anyone processing personal information must notify the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that they are doing so, unless their processing is exempt.

In my last post, “Is the American Consumer Stupid?,” I quoted from an article in junk mail industry publication, Direct, and an interview with Martin Abrams, executive director of the Center for Information Policy Leadership at Hunton & Williams in Washington. One of his points is that U.S. privacy laws are based on preventing harm, as compared to European law which is based on giving consumers control. Actually, Abrams was saying that American business has it easy, compared to the United Kingdom.

The Brits have taken control over consumers’ names and personal data with the requirement that business must inform the ICO of their use. Yes, there are exemptions, but this is the kind of balance we must strive for if we are to put a stop to the current identity crisis in the U.S. I would advocate that we take it one step further, and give the control to individual consumers, and pay them when their names and private information is sold.

But this won’t happen unless you speak up and tell your congressional representatives that you’re tired of this crap and won’t take it anymore. Contact your elected officials in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.Tell them you read about this in The Dunning Letter, and you want to know why we are eight years behind the United Kingdom.

On the other hand, the UK is having its own problems with compliance; naturally, in the business community. As late as November of 2005, that country’s Accountancy Age journal reported in the article, “Data protection disaster looms for thousands,” that less than half the profession’s companies had registered with the ICO, a requirement costing only £35, $64.48 U.S. Apparently the accountants aren’t the only non-compliers in Great Britain, but the ICO is threatening further action.

Which all goes to say that eight years after the enactment of the UK DPA, there are still problems that will probably take yet more time. But the U.S. Congress is currently muddling through several bills on the ID theft issue—most of which will not get the job done—which are really delay tactics to soothe us into believing they are working on our behalf. They aren’t.

If we don’t get serious about this today, tomorrow could pose an ID crisis for your family. Folks, there have been eighty-three data breaches since the beginning of 2006, and there were 8.9 million victims of identity fraud in 2005.

Take a look at the Chronology of Data Breaches, and the Javelin/BBB ID Theft Survey, both from Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and if you can come away from that with indifference, and you are in the majority, we are on a fast track to George Orwell’s Big Brother.

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