Consumer Advocate Taps Net for Top Fed SSNs

Roy Mark

Updated · Aug 28, 2003

To demonstrate how private information is at risk on the Internet, a California consumer advocate claims he has purchased online the social security numbers of Attorney General John Ashcroft, CIA Director George Tenet, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and FTC Commissioner Tim Muris.

Jamie Court, the executive director of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR), said the information cost him as little as $26. He was unable to obtain information on President Bush because he is “too famous.”

Court said he obtained the information to underscore how President Bush was reneging on campaign pledges by quietly backing federal legislation to override new state privacy laws.

“President Bush will have to choose between the commercial freedoms of corporations and the privacy rights of Americans,” said Court. “Banks and insurers should not be able to go to Washington as an end-run around the most protective state privacy laws.”

Court pointed to the Administration’s support this summer for ongoing federal preemption of new state privacy laws under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a clause due to expire Jan. 1.

That policy, promoted by banks and insurers, is embodied in HR 2622, which prevents states from having the authority to stop banks and insurers from trafficking in individuals’ private information with their many affiliates. The legislation passed out of the House Financial Services Committee in late July and will be on a fast track after Labor Day.

California’s new privacy law allows consumers to prevent the trade in their private financial information among corporate affiliates not in the same line of business, such as between banks and insurers. That protection would be superceded by HR 2622.

Court said limiting affiliates’ access to private information is “critical to protecting Americans’ privacy because large corporations today broadly affiliate.” Citigroup, for example, has 1700 affiliates who, under current federal law, cannot be stopped from trading individuals’ private information.

Bush promised in his 2000 campaign to make it a criminal offense to sell a person’s social security number without his or her permission. In one interview, Bush was quoted as saying, “I think there ought to be laws that say a company cannot use my information without my permission.”

“Bush should live up to his campaign promises to protect Americans’ privacy and oppose the efforts by banks and insurers to have the federal government override stronger state laws,” said Court. “While Bush has the Secret Service to protect him, the 750,000 American victims of identity theft each year are counting on the president to identify more with their needs than the corporation’s.”

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