Daily updates on privacy stories in the news.

June 2005 Archives

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Wireless Technology Makes Parking Meters "Intelligent"

Technology is taking much of the fun out of finding a place to park the car. In Pacific Grove, Calif., parking meters know when a car pulls out of the spot and quickly reset to zero -- eliminating drivers' little joy of parking for free on someone else's quarters. In Montreal, when cars stay past their time limit, meters send real-time alerts to an enforcement officer's hand-held device, reducing the number of people needed to monitor parking spaces -- not to mention drivers' chances of getting away with violations. Meanwhile, in Aspen, Colo., wireless "in-car" meters may eliminate the need for curbside parking meters altogether: They dangle from the rear-view mirror inside the car, ticking off prepaid time.

Parking Meters Get Smarter, Wall Street Journal, June 30, 2005.

Employers Can Ask Applicants for SSN, But Better to Wait Until Firm Job Offer

It is legal for employers to require Social Security numbers on job applications, but some privacy-conscious job hunters bristle at revealing that information before a job offer is made. Indeed, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an organization that advocates for privacy interests, advises job applicants to disclose their Social Security numbers only after they have been given job offers.

Doing a number on privacy, Miami Herald, June 27, 2005.

Surveys: U.S. Employers Tracking Workers' E-mail, Web Use

More than ever, employers are monitoring e-mail messages and Internet use, and a fair number say they've disciplined workers for abusing their electronic privileges, according to two recent surveys. Seventy-six percent of firms monitor which Web sites their workers visit, up from 62% in 2001, and 55% review employees' e-mail messages, up from about 47% in 2001, according to the latest Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey from the American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute.

Privacy at work? Don't count on it, MarketWatch, June 23, 2005.

Adoptees File Human Rights Complaint Against Canadian Privacy Commissioner

A group of Ontario adoptees has filed a human rights complaint against Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian after she lobbied the province to amend its proposed adoption disclosure law with a clause allowing people to keep their records sealed. By calling for a veto, Cavoukian "is trying to say that we do not have an automatic right to our birth registration information,'' said Wendy Rowney of the Coalition for Open Adoption Records.

Adoptees file complaints against privacy czar, Canadian Press, June 23, 2005.

Drugstore Chain Disables Web Site Feature Allowing Tracking of Customer Purchases

In a statement June 22 retail drugstore chain CVS Corp. acknowledged that it had disabled a feature on its Web site that allows registered users of its loyalty cards to track purchases made under �flexible spending accounts� (FSA) set up through their employers. The feature allowed an unauthorized person to improperly obtain customer purchase records via e-mail. More than 50 million customers use its ExtraCare loyalty cards, CVS said.

CVS ends Web site feature over privacy concerns, ComputerWorld, June 23, 2005.

Pentagon Creates Student Database for Military Recruiting

The Defense Department began working yesterday with a private marketing firm to create a database of high school students ages 16 to 18 and all college students to help the military identify potential recruits in a time of dwindling enlistment in some branches. The program is provoking a furor among privacy advocates. The new database will include personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.

Pentagon Creating Student Database, Washington Post, June 23, 2005.

Some Banks Fail to Inform Customers of Exposure in Wake of Massive Security Breach

Consumer advocates said credit card customers have been denied crucial information in the wake of a recent data breach, as some major banks are declining to tell cardholders whether their account may have been accessed by hackers. In a security lapse disclosed by MasterCard International Inc. last week, 40 million credit card and debit card numbers were exposed to an intruder who gained access sometime last year through a credit-processing firm.

Cardholders Kept in Dark After Breach, Washington Post, June 23, 2005.

Social Security Administration Loosens Privacy Rules For Its Files

The Social Security Administration has relaxed its privacy restrictions and searched thousands of its files at the request of the F.B.I. as part of terrorism investigations since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, newly disclosed records and interviews show. Some privacy advocates and members of Congress, although sympathetic to the extraordinary demands posed by the Sept. 11 investigation, said they were troubled by what they saw as a significant shift in privacy policies.

Social Security Opened Its Files for 9/11 Inquiry, New York Times, June 22, 2005.

New Rules Don't Limit Use of Data Collected by Vehicles' 'Black Boxes'

The government plans to release new rules for controversial car black boxes this summer, according to a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The rules don't require automakers to install the boxes in every car, but they do require the boxes to record a minimum of 29 pieces of data, more than most black boxes currently record. Privacy advocates say they're disappointed that the rules don't limit the amount of data the boxes can record or address concerns about how recorded data can be collected or used.

Driving Big Brother, Wired News, June 21, 2005.

New Jersey Supreme Court Orders Review of Financial Record Privacy

While upholding the conviction of a woman whose bank records were subpoenaed and shown to a jury that convicted her of theft and forgery, the New Jersey Supreme Court on Monday ordered one of its committees to assess whether financial records should have more protection. The court, in a 7-0 decision, found that privacy expectations are sufficiently protected by existing subpoena procedures, which do not require account holders to get notice when a bank is ordered to surrender records. However, "additional protections may be desirable as a matter of policy," the court said.

Supreme Court seeks assessment on bank record privacy, Associated Press, June 20, 2005.

Spokane Mayor Complains of Lack of Privacy Online

After what Spokane, Wash., Mayor James West called his "brutal outing" by a newspaper that published transcripts of his conversations from a gay chat room, he complained in an e-mail to the city's commission on race relations. West asked: "Should we all fear that our private conversations will be splashed publicly and out of context for all in our sphere to see?" The answer, Internet privacy advocates say, is "yes."

Spokane Mayor Debates Privacy Online, Associated Press, June 20, 2005.

Breach of Credit Card Companies' Security Affects 40 Million Accounts

MasterCard International reported Friday that more than 40 million credit card accounts of all brands, including 13.9 million MasterCards, may have been exposed to fraud through a security breach at a third-party payment processing company. MasterCard said a security hole had been identified at CardSystems Solutions, which processes more than $15 billion in Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, online debit and electronic transfer transactions a year for small to midsize merchants and financial institutions.

MasterCard Says Security Breach Affects 40 Million CardsNew York Times, June 17, 2005.

UK Report: Data Protection Laws Need to Be Strengthened

The National Consumer Council (NCC) is warning that in the face of increasing levels of surveillance - such as ID cards and satellite based road pricing - existing data protection laws are failing to cope. A survey commissioned by the NCC found that 84 per cent of those interviewed have less privacy than they did 10 years ago. And 78 per cent feel people have lost control over how their personal information is collected and used by organisations.

Data laws need upgrade against 'surveillance society', Silicon.com, June 15, 2005.

More Employers Fingerprinting Job Applicants

Once a rarity for job applicants, fingerprints are now required in myriad locales for those seeking positions in a host of fields. What's more, insurers are requiring some companies to conduct background checks, including fingerprints, of workers. The laws requiring fingerprints have spawned a cottage industry of electronic fingerprint capturers, companies that gather prints by computer or those that convert the old-style fingerprint cards to electronic images.

Job seekers increasingly fingerprinted, Wall Street Journal, June 13, 2005.

Texas Court Dismisses American Air Passenger Suit

Plaintiffs who claim an American Airlines affiliate illegally disclosed their personal information to federal officials and several private contractors have had their case dismissed by a federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas. The court dismissed all of the plaintiffs' allegations. Those included claims for trespass to property, invasion of privacy, deceptive trade practices, and violations of the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act. However, plaintiffs could file an amended complaint to correct the deficiencies.

Court Tosses Passengers' Data-Disclosure Lawsuit, Andrews Publications, June 10, 2005.

Survey: Many Believe Congress Failing at Data Protection

Lawmakers have dropped the ball on keeping consumer data safe, D.C. area opinion leaders said in a survey. Eight out of 10 respondents believe that Congress has done too little to protect social security numbers, and three-quarters say the same for financial data and credit card numbers. A majority also said that lawmakers fall short when it comes to safeguarding credit reports (68 percent), phone numbers and addresses (59 percent), and tax and salary records (54 percent).

Survey: Congress falling down on data protection, CNet News, June 8, 2005.

Alaska Air Implements In-Flight Advertising

On a recent Alaska Airlines flight, over the intercom, a flight attendant encouraged passengers to sign up for the Bank of America credit card. Then other flight attendants went down the aisle handing out applications. In the airline industry's newest way to drum up revenue, carriers have become aggressive pitchmen for a range of products to passengers at 30,000 feet. The airlines say the ad revenue helps in these tough financial times.

Cash-Strapped Airlines Try In-Flight Advertising, Washington Post, June 7, 2005.

New Ruling From U.S. Justice Dept. Limits Privacy-Violation Prosecutions

An authoritative new ruling by the Justice Department sharply limits the government's ability to prosecute people for criminal violations of the law that protects the privacy of medical records. In short, the department said, people who work for an entity covered by the federal privacy law are not automatically covered by that law and may not be subject to its criminal penalties, which include a $250,000 fine and 10 years in prison for the most serious violations.

Ruling Limits Prosecutions of People Who Violate Law on Privacy of Medical Records, New York Times, June 7, 2005.

Court Rules Against Japan ID Plan

A Japanese court has ruled that individuals may not be required to provide personal information for the National Residence Registry Network or "Juki Net." The court said that Article 13 of the Japanese constitution applied to all of the data sought by the government for the database, which includes names, addresses, birth dates and sexes, plus 11-digit resident codes. A second court ruled that the first four pieces of personal information, which people can access over the network, "do not need to be highly protected." Similar lawsuits have been filed in 13 different courts across Japan, challenging the collection of data for Juki Net.

Juki Net clouds privacy rights, Daily Yomiuri, June 2, 2005.