What's Missing from This Picture?: Comments to FTC "Information Flows" Workshop

"The free flow of information." This phrase has a deceptively appealing ring to it, almost patriotic in tone. We have heard it used frequently by industry representatives during the workshop today. What are some of the consequences of the free flow of information?

Letter to the FTC on Job Search Industry Privacy Concerns

We are writing to draw your attention to the challenges consumers face as they search for jobs in today's rapidly evolving, information-rich environment. Both online and off, the machinery of the information economy has created a high demand for large compilations of job seekers' names, email addresses, and resumes. Perversely, the demand for job seeker information does not correlate to the availability of jobs nor the demand for workers.

Federal Agencies' Joint Request for Comment: Alternative Forms of Privacy Notices

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLB) requires financial institutions to give customers annual notice of how personal information is collected and disclosed, and, under limited circumstances, a means for customers to control information flow. The notices delivered to consumers, beginning with the effective date of July 1, 2001, until now have generated substantial criticism from all interested parties. As the ANPR notes, there have been broad-based concerns expressed by representatives of financial institutions, consumers, privacy advocates, and Members of Congress.

In response to numerous concerns expressed by all stakeholders about privacy notices, the FTC convened a workshop in December 2001, just five months after financial institutions were required to send the initial privacy notice to customers. To further address these continuing concerns, the Agencies have published the ANPR. That the Agencies are willing to revisit the issue of clear notice to consumers by considering a short-form notice is an encouraging sign for consumer privacy interests.

FTC Consumer Privacy Workshops: Data Base Study


In September 1996, there was a flurry of controversy surrounding the sale of personal information by the Lexis-Nexis company vis-a-vis its P-TRAK service. Although much of the brouhaha centered on the sale of Social Security numbers, which Lexis-Nexis had curtailed a few months earlier, the public outcry illustrated a growing concern about electronic privacy. The Lexis-Nexis phone lines were jammed with people requesting that their records be deleted from the P-TRAK data base.

What most of these people did not realize is that Lexis-Nexis is not the only seller of personally identifiable information.

Comments of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the Utility Consumers' Action Network on Proposed Privacy of Consumer Financial Information Regulations (Gramm-Leach Bliley Act)

As our experiences demonstrate, even information sharing among affiliates can be harmful unless consumers receive affirmative notice of the nature of the business that received the information in addition to the nature of the product being marketed. We welcome those provisions in the proposed regulations that require financial institutions to identify the types of businesses engaged in by affiliates and unaffiliated third parties to whom they disclose confidential data. However, we believe that the G-L-B Act and the proposed regulations do not go far enough in protecting unwary consumers from direct marketing by affiliates who may sell products that are more risky than those offered by the financial institution the consumers do business with. The inability of consumers to "opt-out" of data sharing among affiliates exposes consumers to the kinds of marketing abuses suffered by our three elderly UCAN members.

Privacy Rights of the Homeless

In the United States, the importance of protecting an individual's social services records has not been recognized. Even where laws exist to protect such information, they are often ill-applied or unenforced. Compounding this problem is a substantial lack of awareness among both social services clients and program administrators concerning what types of information may or may not be protected.

For instance, does the right to privacy allow a homeless person to hide the fact that she is homeless from potential landlords or employers? Do low-income social services recipients have the right to inspect the agency's records concerning them and to have errors corrected? What restrictions are placed on the disclosure of public and private social services records?

We're in the Transparency Business: Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award Acceptance Remarks

I thank you - the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the judges. It is truly an honor to receive a Pioneer Award and to join the other Pioneers whom I've admired and revered for years. (www.eff.org/awards/pioneer.html )

I want to say a few words of thanks - and then briefly describe our work in terms of the larger issue of "transparency." But first - my thanks.

Keeping our doors open these past 10 years has been a roller coaster experience. And I'm sure many of you who work in consumer nonprofits can relate. We have been fortunate to obtain funding support from a variety of sources.

True or False? You Can Find Out Anything About Anybody on the Net

Privacy on the Internet is exploding as a topic of public concern these days. Recent surveys have found that 4 out 5 Net users are concerned about threats to their privacy when they're online. Yet only 6% of them have actually experienced privacy abuses.

Those who are not yet on the Net cite privacy as the main reason they have chosen not to become Internet users. If electronic commerce is going to thrive, this fear is going to have to be dealt with by laws and by industry practices. The Clinton Administration is counting on industry to regulate itself, something I will touch on later.

Public Access to Electronic Case Files

We recognize the convenience to the courts and counsel in electronic filing, the need to reduce paper files, and the long-standing principles of public access to court proceedings. However, the PRC and EFF believe the potential for both intangible invasions of privacy by those who have no need to know and more tangible harms such as identity theft outweigh reliance on a system that provides full access to court records electronically. Convenience and storage problems in this electronic age need to be addressed, but hopefully in such a way as to protect not only the public interest by providing access to public records, but to protect privacy interests as well.

Albertsons' Pharmacies: Complaint for Violations of CA Business and Professions Code Sections 17200, et seq.

Albertsons promotes their access to its customers'/consumers' confidential medical information to pharmaceutical companies anxious to increase the name recognition and sale of their drugs. Albertsons secretly enters into commercial arrangements with pharmaceutical companies willing to pay to participate in the Drug Marketing Program. Albertsons then allows these pharmaceutical companies to participate in using the consumers' medical information for direct marketing (either directly by Albertsons or through direct marketing services companies) that increases the sale of targeted drugs. The pharmaceutical companies fully finance the Drug Marketing Program.

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