PRC's Privacy Update No. 3, Iss. 1
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Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
In this issue . . .
The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) and a host of other organizations have joined a group of federal, state and local agencies and national advocacy organizations to launch the seventh annual National Consumer Protection Week, February 6-12, 2005. The theme for this year’s National Consumer Protection Week is “Identity Theft: When Fact Becomes Fiction,” focusing on minimizing consumers’ risk for identity theft and how to take action should an identity thief strike.
In light of National Consumer Protection Week, PRC staff will be offering advice and one-on-one assistance to those in San Diego at Consumer Protection Day, sponsored by the San Diego District Attorney’s office. This event will be hosted on Saturday, January 29th at the Town and Country Resort Hotel in Mission Valley between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The event is free, but you must RSVP by calling 800-827-4277. For more information, see http://www.sdcda.org/files/Consumer Protection Day Flier.pdf
If you don’t live in San Diego, the following link provides many great resources if you think you might be at risk for identity theft, including the PRC’s Identity Theft Quiz, and steps you can take to minimize your risk for this crime:
Identity theft is thought to be the fastest-growing crime in America. This is one reason that it’s the focus of National Consumer Protection Week. It’s also the subject of an upcoming conference, “A Summit on Identity Theft Solutions,” sponsored by California’s Governor Schwarzenegger and the Office of Privacy Protection (http://www.privacy.ca.gov). The conference will be held Tuesday, March 1 at the Sacramento Convention Center in Sacramento, CA Anyone can attend.
The summit features leading experts from law enforcement, business, government, and consumer organizations. The will tackle such issues as challenges in investigating and prosecuting identity thieves, new strategies for battling identity theft, and apprehending perpetrators.
PRC Director Beth Givens is a featured speaker at the event.
To register for the conference and for more information, see:
There’s been an ongoing national debate about the availability of public records on the Internet. Often, public records are just that – public -- and county recorders and assessors as well as other government agencies are obligated to provide the records to anyone who asks.
Such records include marriage, birth and death certificates, real estate transactions, as well as court records such as arrests and convictions, bankruptcies, and divorce proceedings. Many records contain intimate details, including SSNs, financial account information, and personal medical information.
Increasingly, public records are being posted online, either on the web sites of government agencies, or on web sites of data brokers, available for a fee – or both. But should these records be posted online without first removing (redacting) sensitive data such as SSNs, dates of birth, account numbers, and the like?
Many advocates of open access call for public records to be posted fully, without redaction or concern for sensitive family information. Privacy advocates like the PRC believe privacy and personal security must be factored into the equation, with data like SSNs redacted and sensitive information such as divorce proceedings not provided online at all.
Many of you have contacted us, upset that your personal information found in government records is available for anyone on the Internet through such sites as PeopleData, Intelius and US Search. In response to your complaints, the PRC has developed an opt-out guide for these sites and others, available on our web site at:
If you know of other online information vendors that offer a way to opt out, please let us know using our inquiry form [Jan. 2007: The PRC's online inquiry form is now inactive].
But … and this is a big ‘but’ … opting out of online data broker web sites is extremely limited:
-- First, some sites may only remove personal information that is NOT located in public records. In other words, they may continue to post public records information, removing only information found in other sources. For example, if you are listed in the White Pages of the phone book, data brokers will make this data available, usually free, via their web sites. This is likely to be the ONLY data they will allow you to opt out of.
-- Second, web sites and information broker services that post only public records information are not likely to allow you to remove such information.
---Third, public records can contain errors, e.g. your name was confused with someone else or the current status of your case is not included. An Internet data broker will not correct such errors. They will instruct you to correct errors with the court or other source of the record.
-- Last, opting out may prove to be a fruitless venture since often online vendors will simply repopulate the data when they obtain their next download of information from the source. According to People Data, their information is refreshed every three to four months. Your only option would be to check back and go through the opt-out process again if you find your information has been reposted.
Are you concerned or appalled by the practice of posting and selling public records online? Upset that if you opt out it doesn’t apply to all listings, and your data may in fact show up again at a later date? We recommend these action tips:
First, we suggest that you contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with your concerns by going to their web site at http://www.ftc.gov and clicking the link in the upper navigation bar to File a Complaint about a specific online data broker(s).
Second, if your own county agencies are considering posting public records online, let your county supervisors know of your concerns. Attend public meetings when this topic is being discussed and weigh in, both in written and in oral testimony. Organize with others who share your concerns. Organizations that assist victims of domestic violence and stalking, for example, are actively monitoring these proposals and are testifying at public hearings. To find out more, go to the web site of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, http://www.nnedv.org. The site offers links to domestic violence and stalking victims’ assistance groups around the country.
Third, many state court organizations have formed task forces to discuss the privacy and access issues surrounding the posting of court records online. They are developing court rules to guide them. Find out if or how you can participate in these task forces. Perhaps they are holding hearings to which you can submit written testimony and/or speak. For more information about the topic of privacy and online court records, visit the web site http://www.courtaccess.org, a project of the National Center for State Courts.
And fourth, become informed. A citizen-activist in Virginia, B. J. Ostergren, has become expert on the posting of government records online. Her web site includes many news clippings on this subject, http://www.thevirginiawatchdog.com.
Read PRC Director Beth Givens’ paper, “Public Records on the Internet: The Privacy Dilemma,” at http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/onlinepubrecs.htm.
For more information about public and government records in general, see our Fact Sheet 11 at:
In our last edition of the Privacy Update (available online at:
http://www.privacyrights.org/newsletter/041230.htm), we told you that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is considering weakening its rules for telemarketers so that companies with which you have an “existing business relationship” (EBR) can contact you with pre-recorded messages selling their products and services.
Thanks to all of you who contacted the FTC to tell of your concerns about expanding the rules to play prerecorded messages. We also heard from many of you who wanted to provide comments anonymously. Your comments along with those of our staff were filed with the FTC earlier this month.
In general, we asked the FTC not to allow businesses to play prerecorded messages to customers with EBRs, noting that a keypad option to opt out simply does not work for messages that are left on voice mail or answering machines. We also cited advances in telecommunications that could significantly increase the number of prerecorded messages that marketers are able to play-- up to 1,000 synthetic calls every five seconds -- a ‘quantum leap’ from the automated dialers that telemarketers use now.
To read the PRC’s comments that contain the concerns readers like you wanted to have noted anonymously, see http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/FTC-TSREBR.htm
We’ll let you know when the FTC makes a final decision about whether to allow the practice or not.
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