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Friday, January 23, 2009


First, let’s all congratulate our new President, and wish him well in the next four years. It has become painfully obvious since the election just how much Barack Obama will need our support, and he has made it clear on several occasions, there is only so much government can do. The rest is up to the people, as once again we can expect that their voices will be heard by a new administration that is telling us it wants our input.

As a matter of fact, the Obama transition team established a website where consumers can ask questions of President Obama, while suggesting what should be done in the next four to eight years. has already taken more than 76,000 questions from over 103,000 people, and you can be next. Naturally, I have asked the President if he would consider federal legislation that would give consumers control over their names and personal data. The top questions so far are would Obama investigate the Bush/Cheney administration for its wrongdoing and would he favor legalizing marijuana?

According to a 2007 article in junk mail industry publication, DM News, a then Senator Obama sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission in May of 2007, suggesting they increase their efforts to protect elderly citizens from telemarketing scams. It was directed at junk mailers who took advantage of seniors, and was a result of the New York Times article that same month covering the problem. You can see a copy of his letter here. Junk mail data broker, InfoUSA, was singled out as providing lists of older Americans to telemarketing fraudsters. Lists with titles like, "Suffering Seniors" (people with cancer or Alzheimer's disease); and "Oldies but Goodies" (gamblers over 55 years old).

When I worked as a list/data broker, the list business had a nickname for them: the “gullibles.”

Robert Gellman, a privacy and information policy consultant and DM News columnist voiced concern this kind of publicity would “play negatively” for junk mailers. In response to a spokesman for InfoUSA, Stormy Dean, who was quoted as saying, “When it comes to these telemarketer scams, how a list purchaser uses a list is out of our control," Gellman commented that this position was wrong, that InfoUSA had a problem and should acknowledge it.

My comment: It is Dean’s kind of attitude that sends chills down the spines of privacy advocates, confirming once again that the junk mail industry does not exercise adequate security to protect the identities and sensitive data of its customers.

No matter what direction the Obama administration takes on behalf of privacy, particularly the identity crisis—I am not naïve enough to think it ranks up there with the problems of the economy, the Iraq War, or the mideast situation—but if something is not done soon to protect the public’s sensitive data, the entire infrastructure of the American family will be in danger.

The new President asked for our help; let’s give it to him in the form of suggestions you might have on this important issue.

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