Daily updates on privacy stories in the news.

April 2005 Archives

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Washington State Seeks to Log Those Who Buy Some Over-the-counter Medicine

Washington state legislators have approved a bill that places restrictions on the sale of Sudafed, Claritin-D and other nonprescription drugs. The idea is to make it tougher for people to obtain large quantities of common remedies that also contain chemicals used to produce the illegal stimulant methamphetamine. The bill requires stores to demand photo identification for the purchase of some over-the-counter medicines and keep a log of who buys the drugs - records that will be open to police.

Bill to fight meth stirs privacy worries, HeraldNet, April 28, 2005.

Canadian Policemen Misused Confidential Database, Official Says

Alberta's privacy commissioner has found that several Edmonton police officers broke rules by improperly using a police database to look up information about two men targeted in a failed drunk-driving stakeout last fall. The confidential database includes information, such as a person's home address, personal description and date of birth.

Police checks went too far, privacy official says, Globe and Mail, April 28, 2005.

Blockbuster Employees Allegedly Use Store Data for ID Theft

A former employee of a Blockbuster video store in Washington, D.C., has been indicted on charges of stealing customers' identities, then using them to buy more than $117,000 in trips, electronics and other goods. Miles N. Holloman is charged with stealing credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and other private financial information from the application files of 65 customers, then using the data to open retail store and credit card accounts.

ID Theft Alleged at D.C. Blockbuster, Washington Post, April 26, 2005.

Australia's Planned Health Card Raises Specter of National ID

The Australian government�s plans to roll out a national Medicare smartcard have fueled privacy fears. The government wants to extend the smartcard currently on trial in Tasmania throughout Australia as part of a broader strategy to reduce paperwork in major health and welfare agencies. But the Australian Democrats warned the proposed card could act as a default ID card. A Hawke government proposal to introduce a national ID card, called the Australia Card, bitterly divided the nation in the mid-1980s.

Smartcard plan sparks privacy fears, Sydney Morning Herald, April 21, 2005.

New Google Service Archives, Displays Users' Past Searches

Google Inc.�s "My Search History" service, unveiled yesterday, enables the users of its online search engine to see all of their past search requests and results, creating a computer peephole that could prove as embarrassing as it would be helpful. Whenever a user logs in, Google will provide a detailed look at their past search activity. A "pause" feature can prevent it from being displayed.

Google feature may be bad for privacy, Associated Press, April 21, 2005.

Privacy Concerns Surround Boston Subway's New Fare Card

Commuters in Boston could be letting loose personal and financial information when they use the subway system's new Charlie Card, critics contend. The automated fare collection system, which debuts within the next month, uses cards that contain a computer chip and can be loaded with money, which is automatically debited at fare gates. Critics say the system is ripe for identity theft. They say it's possible that hackers could get into the system's computers and steal personal data or that information could be released by mistake.

Some call T's new Charlie Card an invasion of privacy, Boston Globe, April 16, 2005.

Grant Funding Ends for Controversial MATRIX Database

The Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (MATRIX), a three-year-old crime and terrorism database, was closing down Friday because a federal grant ran out. The database drew immediate criticism from privacy rights groups, including the ACLU, which argued that it provided unprecedented access to details about innocent people, including credit histories, marital history, fingerprints and Social Security numbers. Elements of MATRIX may live on if individual states decide to fund it on their own.

Controversial terror database closing down, Associated Press, April 15, 2005.

France Debates Compulsory National ID Cards

The French government is considering a plan for a compulsary ID card that could go into effect in 2007. Owning a national identity card ceased to be compulsory in 1955, but Minister of the Interior Dominique de Villepin wants to force the French to carry the cards again -- and this time, he wants to charge for them.

French may have to buy compulsory biometric ID cards, IDG News Service, April 12, 2005.

State Lawmakers Eye Data-collecting Computer Chips in Cars

Lawmakers in 11 states are hoping to regulate black boxes (computer chips in vehicles that store information on speed and seat belt use), according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The National Highway Transportation Administration states that about 15 percent of vehicles -- or about 30 million cars and trucks -- have black boxes. About 65 percent to 90 percent of 2004 cars and trucks have them, according to the NHTA.

North Dakota, 10 other states debate privacy safeguards on vehicle black boxes, Associated Press, April 11, 2005.

States Reevaluate Data Protection Laws After Recent Scandals

Bills are on the table in 28 states responding to a series of high-profile security breaches at information brokers, banks and universities that so far this year have resulted in more than 1 million Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, names and addresses falling into the hands of potential identity thieves. The state activity is being closely tracked on Capitol Hill, where several House and Senate members have introduced or are preparing identity theft legislation.

States Scramble To Protect Data, Washington Post, April 9, 2005.

Students Protest Iowa Town's New Public Surveillance Cameras

About 20 University of Northern Iowa students protested after Cedar Falls, Iowa, installed three cameras on College Hill before Homecoming to monitor crowds. The cameras are always on, and are accessed over the Internet by police through personal computers anywhere. The cameras can pan left and right and zoom in close enough to identify faces or license plates. This spring the city will install similar cameras downtown.

Protesters feel cameras invade privacy, WCF Courier, April 8, 2005.

Florida Sheriff Uses Restricted Records to Find His Critic

Sheriff Kevin Beary, upset at being described as too fat for basic police work, ordered his staff to use restricted records to find the woman who also criticized his agency's use of stun guns in a letter to the editor. He then fired off a letter scolding Alice Gawronski. The letter caught her by surprise -- and she wonders whether Beary broke laws that protect the public's privacy. The sheriff apologized Wednesday for the rebuke.

Beary says he's sorry for letter to Taser critic, Orlando Sentinel, April 7, 2005.

Connecticut Supreme Court Affirms Bans on GPS Fines

The Connecticut Supreme Court on Monday upheld the state's ban on Acme Rent-A-Car's use of a global positioning satellite system to track customers and fine them $150 for speeding. According to the state's Consumer Protection Department, Acme failed to warn customers of the fines they would face if the system showed they were speeding. Acme also automatically debited consumers' bank accounts or credit cards without notice.

Conn. Court Upholds Ban on GPS Speed Fines, Associated Press, April 4, 2005.

Social Security Numbers Widely Available Online

Although Social Security numbers are one of the most powerful pieces of personal information an identity thief can possess, they remain widely available. This is despite public outcry and the threat of a congressional crackdown after scandals at large information brokers. In the past few months, it has been revealed that ChoicePoint sold sensitive personal data on 145,000 people to an indentity theft crime ring. Also, Bank of America tapes containing information about 1.2 million federal workers have been lost, and there is evidence they were stolen.

Net Aids Access to Sensitive ID Data, Washington Post, April 4, 2005.

U.S. RFID Plans for Passports Criticized

The U.S. government plans to embed passports with radio frequency chips starting this summer, but critics say the technology is untested and could create a security risk for travelers. Each chip has a built-in miniature antenna that uses radio waves to transmit information to a machine reader. Critics contend that terrorists or thieves could use hand-held chip readers to identify U.S. citizens anywhere they travel.

Privacy Advocates Criticize Plan To Embed ID Chips in Passports, Washington Post, April 3, 2005.