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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.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Do-Not-Call Registry Works, Proving Consumers Should Control Their Names and Personal Data

Do-Not-Call Provides Control Over Telephone Number

If you are on the National Do-Not-Call Telephone Registry, you are one of more than 107 million individuals that decided you were fed up with unwanted telemarketers that were pushy, inconsiderate, and a general pain in the butt. They still are, and they remain out there, but they can’t call us anymore if we signed up. If they do, you can file a complaint with the FTC that will stop them once and for all. I know. I did it.

With just under one-half the adult population on the DNC list, I haven’t heard of mass-bankruptcy proceedings for the junk mail and non-junk mail companies using this method of selling. Meaning, I assume, that they have found other means to present their wares. In other words, this federal legislation did not put anyone but the telemarketing business in jeopardy, which is a work ethic they chose to make.

As a former broker of mailing lists—yes, I once sold telephone numbers, but refused to with my clients after experiencing the intrusion trauma of the telemarketer’s call—I can confirm that this was a major part of the advertising thrust of many junk mailers. Some in the industry even indicated that the DNC would put them out of business. Crying wolf again, similar to when the Direct Marketing Assn. (DMA) started the “Mail Preference Service” years ago that allows shoppers to opt-off mailing lists.

Consumers should Control Names and Personal Data

So why am I bringing all this up now? Congressional leaders virtually ignore the concept that consumers should have control over their names and personal data. There are two possible reasons for this. One) business lobbying does not want it, and, therefore, pays to keep it from being legislated; Two) Congress thinks the individual is not capable of handling the task. My gut feeling is that it is both. However, I like neither the fact that junk mailers and non-junk mailers are bankrolling the open door to my identity theft, nor am I fond of being considered stupid., an Internet journal from the University of Illinois, had an interesting article, “Economics of Personal Information Exchange,” that explores who owns our private data. Scrolling down to the heading, “Personal Information as a Property Right,” they confirm how our current system recognizes businesses that warehouse our personal data as its owners.

Government and Business Do Not Own Our Private Information

My argument against this premise is that numerous, distinctly different entities (ChoicePoint, Bank of America, Sharper Image, plus several more) store this sensitive data simultaneously. They all cannot be considered legal owners; therefore, this remains an issue for lawmakers to decide. You can read more about this in my July 19, post, “Junk Mail Industry Continues to Rob Customers.”

On the other hand, I do not believe that consumers should be given property rights over their names and private information. There are too many scam artists out there that will turn this into a money-making proposition that some individuals will not be able to refuse. Beth Givens, founder of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, agrees with this position.

Contact Congress to Pass Federal Legislation

My answer is to pass federal legislation that gives consumers control over their names and personal data. While we’re at it, you should be paid any time it is sold. If you agree, write, E-mail or telephone your Congressional representatives and tell them. Contacting the House of Representatives. Contacting the Senate.