Daily updates on privacy stories in the news.

August 2005 Archives

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Web Sites Sell Private Phone Records

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) on Tuesday petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to require that telecommunications carriers establish better policies and procedures to prevent customer billing records from being sold illegally. EPIC identified more than 40 Web sites engaged in the practice of selling telephone records.

Private Phone Records Sold Online, Privacy Group Complains, InformationWeek, August 30, 2005.

Report: Several Federal Data-Mining Efforts Fail to Follow Privacy Laws

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, reviewed five data-mining efforts employed by the Small Business Administration, Agriculture's Risk Management Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, the State Department, and the FBI. The GAO said the five agencies didn't comply with all related laws and guidance to protect personal information, though they did take some key stops to offer those safeguards.

Federal Data Miners Urged To Better Address Citizen Privacy, InformationWeek, August 29, 2005.

Social Security Number Only Needs to Be Revealed in Limited Situations

A Social Security number legally must be divulged in limited situations, but for many years, consumers readily rattled off their numbers to anyone who asked. With the rise of identity theft, it has become clear a Social Security number is the key to your finances and much more. Consumers can protect themselves by controlling when they give their number. That can mean politely refusing to disclose a number when there's no legal reason to do so or even walking away from doing business with a company that won't take 'No' for an answer.

Social Security number almost never is legally required as ID, Baltimore Sun, August 28, 2005.

Florida Court Overturns DUI Conviction Because of Privacy Violations by Police

A Florida appeals court on Friday threw out the DUI-manslaughter conviction of a Sanford man, saying police took medical records -- including his blood-alcohol reading -- from a hospital without authorization. Police "made no effort" to comply with state law, which is designed to protect the privacy of medical information, wrote appeals Judge Richard Orfinger.

Court cites privacy violations, tosses DUI-manslaughter verdict, Orlando Sentinel, August 27, 2005.

Creator, Buyers of 'Loverspy' Program Indicted

The creator and several buyers of a computer program designed to allow jealous lovers to snoop on their sweethearts' online activities have been indicted for allegedly violating federal computer privacy laws. The Loverspy program, disguised as an electronic greeting card showing images of puppies and flowers, was sent as an e-mail. When it was executed, it would begin recording victims' e-mail messages and the Web sites they visited, prosecutors said.

Jealous Lovers: No Web Snooping, Associated Press, August 27, 2005.

Vermont Court: Police May Enter Emergency Rooms Without Warrants

Law enforcement officers may enter a hospital emergency room without a warrant when they suspect a patient was a drunken driver, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled on Friday. Justice Marilyn Skoglund, writing for a unanimous court, said that patients cannot expect full privacy in the emergency ward of a hospital. Such wards, she said, are open to emergency workers, medical staff and other hospital workers not involved in direct patient care, families and other patients, extinguishing any claim to privacy.

Court says police may enter emergency room without warrant, Associated Press, August 26, 2005.

Library Sues to Block Use of Controversial Patriot Act Clause

A controversial Patriot Act clause allowing the U.S. government to demand information about library patrons' borrowing habits is being challenged in federal court for the first time by a library. The lawsuit was filed against U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut by an unnamed library and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Library sues over controversial Patriot Act, Reuters, August 25, 2005.

Belgian Privacy Commission: Door-to-Door Searches Violate Privacy

The Belgian privacy commission has ruled that Antwerp's door-to-door inspections in troublesome city districts are illegal. The commission has advised the Antwerp City Council to thoroughly re-examine the project 'X-Stra', which is designed to cut crime and improve city living conditions. In response, Public Safety Alderman Dirk Grootjans said he would study the commission's advice, but warned the city would nevertheless start the door-to-door searches in September.

Door-to-door searches in Antwerp 'violate privacy', Expatica, August 24, 2005.

Study: Many American Companies Misuse Customer Information

A new study released this week shows that many major American companies misuse information they collect from consumers over the Web. The Customer Respect Group, the Boston research firm that conducted the study, rated the privacy practices of a whopping 72 percent of 464 North American companies it surveyed earlier this year as "poor" with respect to reusing personal data for marketing purposes.

Companies dinged on Web privacy, CNet News, August 23, 2005.

Public Patent Records Reveal Personal Data of Inventors

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office records allow nearly unlimited access to the Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and bank account numbers of hundreds of inventors who petition to reclaim their patent rights each year. Inventors who are late to file maintenance fees due after four, eight and 12 years of patent ownership must explain the delay to the patent office and show why they should be allowed to keep their patent rights. More than 1,000 inventors petition to reclaim their patent rights each year.

Patent petitions reveal inventors' data, Washington Times, August 23, 2005.

New York To Create Extensive Public Surveillance System

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority intends to announce today that it will pay up to $200 million to a team led by the Lockheed Martin Corporation, a major defense contractor, to create a surveillance and security system around major bridges, tunnels and train and subway stations. Lockheed Martin will lead a team of contractors in creating an "integrated electronic security system" that will include closed-circuit television cameras, motion detectors and "intelligent video" software that can automatically determine if a package has been left on a train or if a person is in a restricted area.

M.T.A. Turns to Lockheed for Security, New York Times, August 23, 2005.

Hacker Steals Data of 33,000 Air Force Officers

Social Security numbers, birth dates and other private data on roughly 33,000 Air Force officers -- about half the branch's officer corps -- were stolen from a military computer database, the service told its personnel late last week. Officials of the Air Force Personnel Center said the intrusion occurred sometime in May or June, apparently by someone who used a legitimate user's log-in information to gain access to the system.

Hacker Steals Air Force Officers' Personal Information, Washington Post, August 23, 2005.

Report: Ontario Government Offers Subpar Data Protection

A provincially commissioned report says the Ontario government is not doing enough to protect the personal information it gathers on citizens. The review, conducted by Deloitte & Touche, acknowledges that the government has taken several steps to beef up privacy protection since a major accidental leak of social insurance numbers last fall.

Government not doing enough to protect private data: report, London Free Press, August 21, 2005.

U.S. Considers RFID-enabled License Plate Scheme

A controversial plan to embed radio frequency identification chips in license plates in the United Kingdom also may be coming to the United States, experts said. The so-called e-Plate is a license plate that also transmits a vehicle's unique identification via encryption that can be read by a small detector, whose output can be used locally or communicated to a distant host. A single RFID reader can identify dozens of vehicles fitted with e-plates moving at any speed at a distance of about 100 yards.

Government May Soon Track You by Your License Plate, United Press International, August 21, 2005.

Canadian Bill Would Let Police Monitor E-mail

Canada's federal cabinet will review new legislation this fall that would give police and security agencies vast powers to begin surveillance of the Internet without court authority. The new measures would allow law-enforcement agents to intercept personal e-mails, text messages and possibly even password-secure websites used for purchasing and financial transactions.

Bill would let police monitor your e-mail, CanWest News Service, August 19, 2005.

Panel Recommends Florida Post Court Records Online

Florida courts should post most of their records online, but stricter data privacy laws are needed both in the state and nationwide, a judicial advisory committee said Thursday. Many of the 24 formal recommendations released by the Florida Supreme Court's Committee on Privacy and Court Records revolve around the idea that access to public records -- with appropriate redactions for confidentiality -- is the key to ensuring government efficiency, accountability and transparency.

Court records should go online, state panel says, CNet News, August 19, 2005.

One Million UK Households Sign On to Phone Privacy Service

British Telecom has announced that one million UK households have signed up to its free BT Privacy service, with registrations currently at up to 30,000 per day. The service was launched in mid-July.

One million act to block nuisance calls, Silicon.com, August 19, 2005.

Man Acquitted of Invasion of Privacy After Taking Photo Up a Woman's Skirt

A judge in Pennsylvania ruled Wednesday that a Virginia man did not violate the state's privacy laws when he snapped a revealing picture up a woman's skirt. The case stems from an August 2004 incident at Capital City Mall where Robert Sullivan, 41, of Alexandria, Va., came up behind a woman, bent down and used the camera in a cell phone to take a picture. The man was found guilty of disorderly conduct.

Judge: privacy not violated, The Sentinel, August 18, 2005.

Finns Urged to Strengthen Security of Wi-Fi Networks

Finland called on its citizens to take more care securing their Wi-Fi networks after news emerged this week that about $245,400 had been stolen from a local bank using an unprotected home network. The thieves apparently thought that using someone else's Wi-Fi network would help cover their tracks.

Finns urge better Wi-Fi security after bank break-in, ComputerWorld, August 18, 2005.

Bluetooth-Enabled Cars Can be Snooped

Don't be too sure your car is an island of privacy. Under certain circumstances, outsiders can eavesdrop on conversations among you and your passengers if your car has a built-in Bluetooth telephone link. Bluetooth provides a low-power wireless connection between your cellphone and your car - it permits hands-free conversations through a speaker and microphone built into the vehicle, or with a headset - and it may be vulnerable to amateur eavesdroppers. At a recent computer security convention in the Netherlands, experts demonstrated a system that lets a laptop user listen to conversations in passing cars with Bluetooth setups.

Miss Manners Wouldn't Approve: Snoops Bug the High-Tech Car, New York Times, August 14, 2005.

Florida Considers 'Digital Birth ID'

Imagine a virtual "thumbprint" that attaches your time and place of birth to your photo and iris scans � one of millions collected, warehoused and monitored by the watchful eye of Big Brother. No government has tried it out on a large scale, but Florida might become the first. A defense contractor has proposed that the state assign a "digital birth certificate" to each of its 16 million residents, in what some experts say is the best way to protect privacy and others fear is an entr�e into a dystopian future.

'Digital birth ID' stirs privacy debate, Palm Beach Post, August 13, 2005.

Game Publishers Use Software to Scan Users' Computers for Hacks

A number of "World of Warcraft" players are up in arms over software being used by the game's publisher to scan users' computers for hacks prohibited under its terms of service. Players sometimes cry foul about such practices, though, arguing that a game developer's need to keep out hackers doesn't outweigh customers' rights to privacy.

Game players say Blizzard invades privacy, CNet News, August 12, 2005.

Federal Appeals Court Revives E-mail Snoop Case

A federal appeals court has revived the government's online eavesdropping prosecution against an executive of a company that offered e-mail service and surreptitiously tracked its subscribers' messages. The case had been dismissed in 2003 by a judge who found it was acceptable for the company to make copies of the e-mails so it could peruse messages sent to its subscribers by rival Amazon.com. In yesterday's 5-2 decision, the full court said the e-mail interception could be considered illegal and reinstated the indictment, sending the case back to the District Court.

Court rules e-mail may get privacy protection, Associated Press, August 12, 2005.

New VoIP Wiretap Rule Makes Computer Systems More Vulnerable

Acting on appeals from the Justice Department and other law enforcement officials, the Federal Communications Commission voted last week to require providers of Internet phone calls and broadband services to ensure their equipment can allow police wiretaps. New regulations making it easier for law enforcement to tap Internet phone calls will also make computer systems more vulnerable to hackers, digital privacy and civil liberties groups say.

VoIP Wiretap Rule Angers Privacy Groups, Associated Press August 11, 2005.

Iowa Pharmacy Board Plan to Create Prescription-Tracking System Criticized

An Iowa Board of Pharmacy Examiners plan to establish a computer system that would track prescriptions for controlled substances came under fire Tuesday by state lawmakers and critics who said it would invade the privacy of Iowa patients. The board wants Iowa to join about 20 other states that are tracking controlled substances in an effort to crack down on the abuse of prescription drugs such as painkillers. But some lawmakers compared the government-run system with "big brother," saying it could put patients' sensitive medical information in the wrong hands.

Prescription-tracking system criticized over privacy concerns, Quad-City Times, August 11, 2005.

Homeland Security Chief Says Privacy Fears Overblown

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Tuesday that Americans need to ease their concerns about turning over personal information to the government � especially if they want to fly safe from terrorism. Chertoff said there is too much worry over a plan by the Transportation Security Administration to collect passengers' full names and birth dates before they board. Chertoff acknowledged that "the privacy issue has become so sensitive," but he added that "we're still in a very primitive model of how we screen people."

Chertoff: Privacy fears not justified, USA Today, August 10, 2005.

Report: Canadians More Accepting of Governments Sharing Information

Canadians are not alarmed by the potential privacy dangers raised by networked government databases of personal information, a new report concludes. The study comes as governments are planning to create huge agencies that want access to more personal information in order to provide Canadians with "one-stop shopping" for a variety of services. But privacy experts have long warned that the government must maintain firewalls that separate the data to avoid the creation of extensive files that could be abused.

New report plays down privacy fears, Globe and Mail, August 9, 2005.

UK Tests RFID-enabled License Plates to Track Vehicles

The British government is preparing to test new high-tech license plates containing microchips capable of transmitting unique vehicle identification numbers and other data to readers more than 300 feet away. Officials in the United States say they'll be closely watching the British trial as they contemplate initiating their own tests of the plates, which incorporate radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags to make vehicles electronically trackable.

Brit License Plates Get Chipped, Wired News, August 9, 2005.

Australian Privacy Officer to Investigate Files Blunder

Victoria's Privacy Commissioner Paul Chadwick will investigate a serious bungle by the Office of Police Integrity (OPI) after it released confidential police files on hundreds of people to one complainant. Files on more than 400 people were sent by the OPI to a woman in country Victoria in May after she complained that a policewoman had breached her privacy by accessing her files. The files contain intimate information such as the full names and private addresses of victims of crimes.

Watchdog to probe files blunder, Daily Telegraph, August 8, 2005.

Non-Profit Groups Expand Extensive Employee Background Searches

Volunteering and working for an organization that serves children often means consenting to an extensive background check. Now that examination just keeps going - and going. Several Boys & Girls Clubs have begun using a technology that provides continuing updates on criminal convictions among staff members and volunteers. The clubs say concerns about children's safety outweigh any potential invasion of privacy.

Groups Expanding Background Checks, New York Times, Aug. 4, 2005.

Judge Dismisses Suit of Passengers Claiming Jet Blue Violated Privacy Policy

Consumers have little recourse when their personal information is divulged, privacy advocates said after a judge tossed out the complaints of JetBlue passengers who claimed the company violated its own privacy policy. JetBlue voluntarily released passengers' names, addresses and phone numbers to a federal Defense Department contractor studying military base security in 2002. Contractors then merged the information with other databases to include Social Security numbers, occupation, number of adults and children in the family and whether the passenger owned or rented a home.

Not a matter of privacy, Newsday, Aug. 3, 2005.

Newsrooms Try to Protect Identities of Sources

As the case of the leaked identity of a Central Intelligence Agency officer continues to unfold in Washington, news organizations are trying to outwit prosecutors, and protect reporters and sources in what they believe to be an increasingly antagonistic environment. In some instances, news executives are issuing guidelines to educate and retrain their staffs about taking precautions to protect their notes and other source materials from being sought as evidence in legal cases. Some are also looking at technological fixes like heightened encryption and e-mail messages that expire.

Newsrooms Seek Ways to Shield Identities, New York Times, August 1, 2005.

Many Adoptees Seek Birth Records Under New Hampshire's New Law

The initial rush has passed but adults adopted as children continue to seek their original birth records since New Hampshire law gave them access. When the law changed in January, 149 people requested their birth certificates in the first week. By the end of the month, the number hit 343. Not every adoptee has had success when finally armed with the information. Biological parents can advise the state if they don't want to be contacted and that is included with the birth records.

Many adoptees seek access to birth records under new N.H. law, Foster's, August 1, 2005.

Vietnam's Vinaphone Admits It Erred in Revealing Private Customer Data

Vietnam�s biggest mobile phone network, Vinaphone, today admitted that it should not have released a customer�s privileged information to a third party without prior consent from the customer. The information revealed included call times, durations, site of call, and numbers, with the unauthorized recipient going on to cause personal damage with the customer's private details.

Vinaphone admits mistake in leaking customer privacy, Thanh Nien News, August 1, 2005.