Lately there have been a number of serious breaches of major companies' databases, resulting in big news splashes about customer, financial and medical information being compromised, possibly downloaded and used fraudulently. ChoicePoint and LexisNexis, along with other information providers, have had their names in the press from the news that hackers were able to get at their data. The Wall Street Journal is not where you want to air dirty laundry. Similar breaches spurred the California legislators to pass their notification law in 2002, and the Federal government is now considering a similar law.
On the other hand, commercial gain and governmental investigations are also eroding privacy in ways we would not have imagined five years ago. The buying and selling of customer information is at an all time high. For example, the 1974 Privacy Act, which forbids a governmental agency from secretly collecting information about our citizens unless there is a "proper purpose," does not stop the Justice Department from spending $63.4 million with the very same ChoicePoint just in the news. Why? It appears that loopholes in the Privacy Act allow federal investigators to tap into databases of personal information collected by these private data brokers. While not illegal, it is a disturbing practice that seems to violate the spirit of the Privacy Act. It appears that customer privacy is under attack from a number of fronts.
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