June 02, 2005

Who Do You Trust with Your Information?

A Long Beach Press Telegram editorial highlights something that everyone should think about before unthinkingly giving out any information -- and of course, that means it's especially important if one's still thinking about how far to take the protest of the coming NID. The subtitle of the piece says it all, but I'll quote from Real ID theft: This law could be a boon to thieves:
To feel comfortable with the federal Real ID Act, one would have to believe that tens of thousands of DMV employees and federal workers nationwide are beyond corruption and above the lure of easy money. We just aren't that optimistic.

DMV and federal leaks are just one of several security concerns raised in recent weeks about the federal identification system approved by Congress and President Bush last month. The ID system seems impossible to police effectively, and appears to leave Americans more vulnerable to identity theft, rather than less. ....

Personal security could be breached in one of several ways: through DMV employees, for whom the temptation to make extra money would be ever-present; through federal workers who could also access the system; and when personal information is checked by retailers and sold to data collection companies like ChoicePoint Inc.

As the L.A. Times reported Tuesday, the Real ID legislation contains no data protection provisions, so retailers will have no hurdles and every incentive to sell information to ChoicePoint and other data collection companies. Information databases are breached regularly by identity thieves. ....

Its easy accessibility ought to make every American nervous. A separate bill could prohibit retailers from selling the information, but what about stopping other leaks? At least 11 states have investigated fraud rings at their motor vehicle departments in recent years, and the Real ID would create even more incentive for criminal misuse.

And this massive data-leaking potential doesn't stop at the USSA border. Here's another business-related item, this time involving a Canadian company: BlueBear Network Teams with VisionSphere to Target U.S. Real ID Act. First few paragraphs (emphasis mine):
BlueBear Network International, Inc (Pink Sheets:BLBR) announced today it has extended its exclusive licensing of facial recognition and secure distributed search technology from Ottawa-based VisionSphere Technologies, to offer State motor vehicle agencies the ability to link driver's license databases between all U.S. states, Canada and Mexico -- as proposed by the sweeping REAL ID Act approved by Congress this month.

"The passing of the Real ID Act by Congress earlier this month will enable BlueBear to position itself to be a key technology player in linking driver's license databases throughout North America," said Andrew Brewin, President and CEO of BlueBear Network. "Given that BlueBear is already deploying information sharing systems in Law Enforcement, adding Driver's Licenses is a logical extension."

Here's the web site for BlueBear International, should anyone want more information about the company.

There's a lot I could say to expand on both of these news reports, but for now I'll simply point out that as our information becomes more of a commodity, it's important to be vigilant about every piece of data we give out about ourselves, to whom, and why. I often get funny looks for not giving my ZIP code to store clerks, which tells me that not enough of us are refusing to do so! Why do they need to know anything about where I live when I'm just trying to purchase something from them that doesn't involve shipping?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since I always pay cash, I give phony information to nosy businesses--no arguments, no funny looks. I sure hope that doesn't make the information they collect from me less valuable and salable.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The identity theft problem cannot be solved with harsh new laws increasing prison terms for "identity thieves". That of course, is the preferred political approach; advocating longer prison terms doesn't lose elections! All the politicians will accomplish is filling more prisons and increasing the black market value of identity data.

The only solution I see is to eliminate the black market value of knowing someone else's birthdate, name and social security number. That means 1) a new system for conducting financial transactions that enables a person to verify her identity that is not based solely on the already public data items -- this could be a personal smart card with pin number changeable by the individual that generates one-use passwords/confirmation numbers; and 2) new laws putting the burden of proof on businesses to prove that they actually did business with the person they thought they were doing business with -- this would enable a person to say, "Merchant X opened a credit account over the phone without using the new smartcard system, based on stolen identity information and it wasn't me, therefore Merchant X is responsible for the loss and must pay me compensation!"

What we have now is a business system that eliminates the need for face-to-face interaction and it is, in effect, an "attractive nuisance". The merchants who accept stolen id are part of the problem and share responsibility for the mess we're in now with the identity thieves, the credit bureau companies and the government. Instead, the law seems to treat the merchants as victims and police aren't too interested in helping individuals who say their identity has been stolen.

Since revealed data can never be un-revealed, we cannot solve the ID theft problem without reforming the way electronic/cyber/phone business is conducted and eliminate the fraud-based value of a person's identity data elements. But the politicians are happily building more prisons even though the US already has 2 million prisoners, the highest percentage of incarceration in the world. Prohibition didn't work with alcohol or drugs, and the "War on Poverty" is over (we lost.)

What does this have to do with "Real ID". Unfortunately, nothing. The politicians are basically disarming the citizens, increasing their vulnerability and providing no benefit in return. In fact, we know fairly well that public employees are no less likely to commit criminal acts than non-public employees. Actually, they have greater opportunities for crime and fewer risks of getting caught or punished. Look at the most recent Rampart cop trial to see how hard it is to convict an evildoer wearing a badge.

There are no simple solutions for us sheep. You can: Buy identity theft monitoring and insurance services; Sue the ass off companies involved in screwing up your credit; Never give out any identity information to anyone that does not have a need to know; and always vote against the incumbent!

P.S. I always tell shop clerks "90210"!

9:08 PM  

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