Eight Reasons to be Skeptical of a "Technology Fix" for Protecting Privacy

I'm going to begin by listing just a few of the many technology-based services that are available now or are soon to be launched. I will then list eight reasons why I am not convinced that these services are the entire answer to safeguarding consumer privacy.

Then, to close, I will discuss approaches that I believe are more likely to provide meaningful protection of our personal privacy.

Identity Theft: The Growing Problem of Wrongful Criminal Records

The victim of criminal identity theft may not know that someone has burdened them with a criminal record until they are stopped for a traffic violation, the officer runs a check on their driver's license number, and they're arrested on the spot. Or perhaps they apply for a job, are turned down, and obtain the results of the background check because the employer is actually complying with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (something that is not being done across the board, and which I'll talk about in a moment).

Preventing Identity Theft: Industry Practices Are the Key

Discussions on preventing identity theft often focus on steps consumers can take, such as shredding their trash and restricting access to their Social Security number (SSN). But realistically, while such measures can reduce the odds of becoming a victim, there is little consumers can do to actually prevent identity theft. The key to prevention, rather, is for businesses to establish responsible information-handling practices and for the credit industry to adopt stricter application verification procedures, among other strategies (see below).

What's Missing from This Picture? Privacy Protection in the New Millennium

In the few minutes that I have this morning, I will present three vignettes that I have called "What's Missing in This Picture." These are:

  • Legislative Action in the Face of Strong Public Opinion Polls
  • Critical Analysis of Industry Assertions
  • Meaningful and Understandable Privacy Policies

PRC Comments on Proposed HHS - Medical Records Privacy Rule

Even though the proposed rule lays the foundation for the implementation of fair information principles, it takes several steps backward and gravely endangers patient privacy in a number of areas, explained below. Because of the significant shortcomings of the proposed rule, in addition to the relatively limited opportunity for individuals to have been apprised of and comment on the rule, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse recommends that the proposed rule be withdrawn and redrafted.

Letter to California Legislators and Governor Gray Davis by 15 Consumer-related Organizations in Favor of Strong Opt-in Financial Privacy Legislation

The undersigned organizations urge your support of legislation giving customers of financial institutions stronger rights of privacy over their customer information.

This is a critical time for California consumers. In 1999 Congress passed and the President signed the Financial Services Modernization Bill. This far-reaching law enables banks to become affiliated with insurance companies and brokerage firms. This law contains only the weakest of customer privacy provisions - requiring financial institutions to provide customers an opt-out opportunity before selling customer data to unaffiliated third parties.1

Consumers' Financial Privacy Act Testimony

I am Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. We are one of 15 consumer groups supporting Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl's AB 1707. The two most critically important provisions of this bill are the disclosure requirement and the opt-in standard for the sharing of customer information with company affiliates and third parties.

I will make five points this afternoon, regarding: change, fraud, privacy, consumer benefits, and business costs.

Public Attitudes about the Privacy of Information

Privacy is such a personal issue that peoples' attitudes about it differ greatly. The willingness to provide access to personal information is often contingent on the reward for doing so. Such rewards often take the form of additional savings, coupons, and rebates. Since personal information has value, if you choose to withhold it, you may deny yourself

Nowhere to Turn: Victims Speak Out on Identity Theft - A Survey of Identity Theft Victims and Recommendations for Reform

Identity theft is a growing crisis in the United States. As the crime becomes more visible, stories of victims' complex experiences permeate the media. Identity theft occurs when someone invades your life, taking pieces of your personal identifying information as his or her own, and ruins your financial reputation. In addition, victims of this crime face extreme difficulties attempting to clear the damaged credit, or even criminal record, caused by the thief.

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