Daily updates on privacy stories in the news.

July 2005 Archives

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California Supreme Court to Review Pay Privacy Case

The California Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to decide whether police officers' and other government employees' pay is a public record in a case. Two newspapers sued Oakland last year after the city refused to release the names and salaries of employees it paid more than $100,000 a year. After two court rulings that government worker pay is public information, the city released the records. But police officer and engineer unions asked the state Supreme Court to review the rulings.

Top state court to hear case on public records, Contra Costa Times, July 29, 2005.

U.S. Government Encoding Laser Printers with Identifying Data

The U.S. government has made an agreement with some laser printer manufacturers to encode each page with identifying information, according to civil rights organisation the Electronic Frontier Foundation. EFF is gathering information about the data that printers are revealing with a view to a possible legal challenge or to push for new legislation to protect privacy. The action follows an article published by PC World in November about the markings.

Privacy group warns on print tracking, Vnunet.com, July 28, 2005.

New York City Expands Random Searches

Hundreds of suburban New York City commuters, from central New Jersey to Rockland County, N.Y., were asked for the first time yesterday to submit their bags for inspection by the police, as two major transit carriers in the region joined New York City authorities trying to buffer their train, subway and bus systems against a terror attack. New Jersey Transit's police officers conducted more than 1,100 searches at commuter rail stations in Trenton and Secaucus and a light-rail station in Hoboken, among other transit hubs. The expansion of searches occurred against a backdrop of anxiety in New York City, where the police continued to conduct widespread bag inspections in the subways under a policy authorized by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg last week.

More Travelers Face Searches on Way to City, New York Times, July 26, 2005.

Report Finds Transportation Security Administration Violated Privacy Laws

The Transportation Security Administration violated the federal Privacy Act by creating a database of aviation passenger records that merged airline records with commercial data in an improper way, government auditors said Friday. The violation did not result in the inappropriate release of personal data or wrongly prevent anyone from boarding a plane, the Government Accountability Office report said. But it still violated the law, the report said, because the database included biographical information on 43,000 passengers from private companies, contrary to the agency's promise not to collect and store commercial data.

Flight Database Found to Violate Privacy Law, New York Times, July 23, 2005.

Direct Marketing Association Creates Deceased Do-Not-Call List

The Direct Marketing Association has created what it calls the Deceased Do-Not-Contact list. The association announced the DDNC file yesterday as a list of names, addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of deceased consumers that must be honored by all DMA member companies but also will be available to non-member firms. Consumers now can register the names of deceased loved ones on the DMA's consumer Web site at preference.the-dma.org/cgi/ddnc.php.

DMA Aims to Stop Solicitations to the Deceased, DMNews, July 22, 2005.

United States Continues Privacy vs. Security Debate

The recent attacks in London by home-grown terrorists have intensified attention on homeland security in the US. And that in turn has raised new questions about protecting civil liberties and privacy during a new kind of war that knows no national borders. What military leaders see as a new threat at home, others see differently.

America wrestles with privacy vs. security, Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 2005.

Alberta Privacy Commissioner Rebukes Two Canadian Firms for Privacy Breaches

Canadian lawyers got a painful lesson about the legal dangers of filing electronic data when the Alberta Privacy Commissioner's office rebuked two respected firms last week for publishing personal employee information on a public Web site. Stikeman Elliott LLP of Toronto and Montreal and Shtabsky & Tussman LLP of Edmonton were singled out for disclosing home addresses and social insurance numbers in connection with a complex corporate buyout.

Firms get wrists slapped over privacy breach, Globe and Mail, July 21, 2005.

Study: Many Americans Delete Web Cookies That Track Them

Internet cookies used to be a treat for marketers looking for ways to measure advertising response, but lately they've become a lot less tasty. A recent study by international research advisory organization JupiterResearch has found that nearly 60 per cent of American Internet users have deleted cookies from their primary computers, with 39 per cent doing so on a monthly basis.

The Web cookie is crumbling -- and marketers feel the fallout, Globe and Mail, July 21, 2005.

Montana Supreme Court: No Privacy Rights in Garbage

Montanans' right to privacy does not extend to their garbage that fills trash cans along alleys and curbs, the state Supreme Court has ruled. Taking out the trash is the same as abandoning such refuse, and law officers don't need a warrant to rummage through remnants of citizens' lives, the justices said in a 5-2 decision Tuesday. The court concluded that "when a person intentionally abandons his property, that person's expectation of privacy with regard to that property is abandoned as well."

Court: Garbage not protected by privacy right, Associated Press, July 20, 2005.

Security Breach at USC Exposes Student Applicant Database

A University of Southern California database containing about 270,000 records of past applicants including their names and Social Security numbers was hacked last month, officials said Tuesday. The breach of the university's online application database exposed "dozens" of records to unauthorized individuals, USC said.

USC says database hacked, Reuters, July 19, 2005.

UK Union Wants Ban on Using RFID to Track Employees

A UK trade union is calling for a Europe-wide ban on supermarkets and other employers using RFID and GPS technology to tag and track staff in the workplace. The general workers' union GMB has submitted a report to the European Commission warning that tagging technologies are an invasion of workers' privacy and calling for legislation to restrict its use.

Union calls for European ban on staff-tracking RFID, Silicon.comA, July 19, 2005.

Online Private Eyes Face Scrutiny

Numerous Web sites make being a private investigator as easy as double clicking. The basic information those sites provide is fairly innocuous, not much more than what people find in a good phone book. But smaller, lesser-known Web sites are cropping up that offer a speedy way to get much more sensitive information about people, from lists of phone calls someone has made to their Social Security number and employment information. Privacy advocates worry that the ease with which that type of information can get into the wrong hands could lead to more identity theft and fraud, harassment or even stalking incidents.

Online private eyes draw privacy complaints CNet News, July 18, 2005.

Price of Convenience May be Privacy Rights

Anyone making long drives this summer will notice a new dimension to contemporary inequality: a widening gap between the users of automatic toll-paying devices and those who pay cash. E-ZPass is one of many innovations that give you the option of trading a bit of privacy for a load of convenience. Some people see a bait-and-switch here. Over time, the data you are required to hand over become more and more personal, and such handovers cease to be optional. Neato data gathering is making society less free and less human.

A Pass on Privacy?, New York Times, July 17, 2005.

Google's Growth Raises Questions for Privacy Rights of Its Customers

Google is at once a powerful search engine and a growing e-mail provider. It runs a blogging service, makes software to speed Web traffic and is developing a payments service. Although many Internet users eagerly await each new technology from Google Inc., its rapid expansion is also prompting concerns that the company may know too much: what you read, where you surf and travel, whom you write. Some privacy advocates worry about the potential: The data's very existence -- conveniently all under a single digital roof -- makes Google a prime target for abuse by overzealous law enforcers and criminals alike.

As Google grows, how much does it know about you?, Associated Press, July 16, 2005.

Virginia Town Considers Criminalizing Trash Scavenging

The town council of Blacksburg, Va., is considering an ordinance that would make scavenging in trash cans or Dumpsters a class 3 misdemeanor after a locak TV reporter aired two stories in May about banks that threw out customers' financial information without shredding it. The reporter collected trash from the Dumpsters of Blacksburg businesses and interviewed people whose information she found. One woman's bank loan application, including social security and account numbers, turned up in a National Bank of Blacksburg Dumpster, according to the report.

Blacksburg may protect privacy of trash, New River Valley Current, July 16, 2005.

Senators Introduce Identity Theft Protection Act

A bipartisan group of senators introduced comprehensive identity-theft legislation Thursday that throws some of the burden for preventing the increasingly common crime onto businesses and other organizations that collect personal information. The Identity Theft Protection Act addresses problems with recent high-profile data breaches by requiring entities that collect sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers, to secure the data physically and technologically and to notify consumers nationwide when data is compromised.

Bill Strives to Protect Privacy, Wired News, July 15, 2005.

Another Virginia DMV Employee Accused of Fraud

The manager of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles office at Springfield Mall was charged yesterday with selling driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and others for up to $3,500 apiece. The arrest marked the second time in two years that a Northern Virginia DMV employee was accused of fraudulently selling licenses for cash. A similar scheme two years ago at the DMV office in Tysons Corner led to the guilty pleas of two employees.

Va. DMV Official Accused in Fraud Probe, Washington Post, July 13, 2005.

Ruling by Dutch Judge Protects Privacy of Online File Swappers

A Dutch judge ruled on Tuesday that Internet service providers would not have to hand over names or addresses of customers who may be illegally swapping films, music and other copyright-protected files. Brein, a Dutch organization representing 52 media and entertainment companies, had acquired the IP addresses of file swappers and requested personal details behind these addresses from five large Internet service providers. The service providers refused to hand over the details, arguing that only a criminal trial court could demand them.

Dutch judge protects privacy of file swappers, Reuters, July 12, 2005.

U.S. Officials Seek Rapid-Wiretap Access to In-Flight Broadband Services

Federal law enforcement officials, fearful that terrorists will exploit emerging in-flight broadband services to remotely activate bombs or coordinate hijackings, are asking regulators for the power to begin eavesdropping on any passenger's internet use within 10 minutes of obtaining court authorization. In addition to seeking the rapid-tap technology, the Justice Department has asked the FCC to require carriers to maintain fine-grained control over their airborne broadband links. This would include the ability to quickly and automatically identify every internet user by name and seat number, remotely cut off a passenger's internet access, cut off all passengers' access without affecting the flight crew's access, or redirect communications to and from the aircraft in the event of a crisis.

Feds Fear Air Broadband Terror, Wired News, July 11, 2005.

Body Scan Machines to Search London Tube Passengers

Tube passengers are to have their bodies scanned by machines that see through clothing to carry out random checks as people enter stations after services resume today. Police and transport officials are also considering installing the equipment permanently at stations across the network. The system works by measuring the solar radiation reflected by people�s bodies and measuring anything which interferes with the reflection.

Body scan machines to be used on Tube passengers, Times, July 8, 2005.

Online Commerce Allows For Sale of Cell Phone Records

Fueled by the ease of online commerce, snoops are on the trail of other personal information, too. One of the hottest markets: records of phone calls, especially from cell phones. A tool long used by law enforcement and private investigators to help locate criminals or debt-skippers, phone records are a part of the sea of personal data routinely bought and sold online. Legal experts say many of the methods for acquiring such information are illegal, but they receive scant attention from authorities.

Online Data Gets Personal, Washington Post, July 8, 2005.

Lufthansa Airline Tests Biometric Tickets

The German airline Lufthansa has started testing tickets encoded with passengers' thumbprint data in hopes of speeding up check-ins without compromising security. The 14-day trial started Monday with Lufthansa employees trying out the system. If all goes well, the airline wants to roll it out in 2006.

German Airline Tests Biometric Tickets, Associated Press, July 6, 2005.

U.S. Allowing Some Fraud Victims To Get New SSNs

As companies roll out a growing variety of tools to combat identity theft, some Americans are taking a more radical step: changing their Social Security number. Traditionally, trading in an old number for a new one is something attempted in only the most extreme circumstances. Not only does the Social Security Administration demand heavy, documented proof of hardship -- but it also means that an individual must then track down every bank, utility, credit-card association and government agency that might have the old number on file, and persuade them to use the new one.

A Radical Tool To Fight ID Theft
, Wall Street Journal, July 6, 2005.

Crash Investigators Use Data From Cars' Black Boxes

Just a decade ago, detectives investigating traffic accidents would analyze skid marks with tape measures, rulers and special wheels. Now they use lasers and computer analyses that measure and map the split-second anatomy of a crash. And, like their counterparts in aviation circles, they are turning to black boxes -- event data recorders that carmakers have tucked into millions of vehicles. The recorders can reveal the speed, braking and throttle of vehicles in the seconds before impact.

Car-Crash Investigators Partner With Computers 'Black Box,' Washington Post, July 3, 2005.

Identity Theft Victims Face More Woes Than Just Credit Card Fraud

Christine O'Neill had been working in the cafeteria of the King Philip Middle School in Norfolk for about three weeks last fall when she was called to the superintendent's office. She was told her criminal background check had come back, and was fired. O'Neill left the building, sat in her car, and wept. Not because her past had come back to haunt her, but because someone else's had.

As criminal records become open books, more people are trapped by rap sheets, Boston.com, July 2, 2005.

Pennsylvania Credit Union Replacing Cards Regardless of Fraud

In the past two weeks, the nation's financial institutions have been scrambling to cope with the latest in a string of security breaches. They have flagged the most exposed card accounts and scoured records for unusual transactions that could be traced to criminal activity. They also have started playing the odds, by trying to determine whether it would be cheaper to eat the costs from fraudulent charges than it will be to incur the big expense of issuing new cards -- which can cost as much as $20 each -- and alerting customers to the potential threat. So far, most have decided to wait for the exposed accounts to fall into criminal hands. That isn't the case for the Pennsylvania credit union that serves some 300,000 state workers, teachers and students. Rather than waiting to see if fraudsters had grabbed hold of its card data, PSECU has decided to close accounts and reissue 7,300 cards flagged
by Visa as among the most vulnerable.

This Credit Union Doesn't Wait To Replace Exposed Cards, Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2005.