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03/17/2003 Archived Entry: "SURPRISE! Federal agencies sloppy with SSNs"

YOU CAN TRUST YOUR GOVERNMENT -- to make a hash of things. From the U.S. Senate comes a report that federal agencies are sloppy in protecting your social security number and other confidential data. They grant access to your SSN -- and your identity -- to all sorts of folks without much regard for who those folks or what they may do to you. This earned a Privacy Villain of the Week award from the National Consumer Coalition's Privacy Group, which rightly points out that federal agencies have absolutely no incentive to fix the problem. It's not like they're going to lose either "customers" or revenue by abusing your trust.

The NCCPG also correctly notes that the real answer to the identity-theft problem is to quit using the SSN or any other single "open sesame" (like fingerprints or retinal scans) as a universal identifier.

Alas, this isn't the entire solution. The very databases themselves -- when combined with incurable human stupidity -- compromise our security in ways old paper files never could have. I have a friend, for instance, who's doing some computer work for a financial-services company. This company has the sort of files on its customers that ... well, let's just say that if they don't know whether you wipe your butt with your left hand or your right, it's only because they haven't put that field in the form yet. My friend was startled to learn that this company had simply given her access to everything in their customer files -- total information on thousands of people who had been assured that their information was confidential -- no protections, no blocks on the info at all. Fortunately my friend is so honorable she won't even look at the data, let alone steal it. So that particular group of customers lucks out. This time. But luck is all that protects them from financial rape.

Posted by Claire @ 08:35 AM CST

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