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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.