December 31, 1997
DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR DATA IS?
Probably not. Because of the growing number of computer networks that sell, store, transfer and link our personal information, it's now too easy for the government and private organizations to trace each of us -- from cradle to grave.
Your right to information privacy is being wiped out. But there's still time to do something about it. The best way to keep control over your personal information is to limit how many other people get it. Inside are some tips to help you protect your privacy.
USE CAUTION WHEN GIVING OUT YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER TO A GOVERNMENT AGENCY
Only state DMVs, tax departments and welfare departments have the legal authority to demand a SSN. Under the Privacy Act of 1974, all other government agencies are required to tell you why your SSN is necessary, whether giving your SSN is mandatory or voluntary, and how your SSN will be used.
In fact, a Federal Court in Louisiana recently ruled in favor of a man who refused to put his SSN on his voter registration form because the state's requirement violated the Privacy Act.
STOP GIVING YOUR SSN TO RETAILERS, UTILITIES, CREDIT CARD COMPANIES AND OTHER PRIVATE BUSINESSES
- If they insist on an identifier, try giving them just the last four digits of your SSN _ or suggest they use an alternative identifying number. And if the company refuses, take your business elsewhere. They'll get the hint.
- Don't give your SSN to anyone over the telephone.
- "Opt out" of consumer mailing lists: call credit card bureaus, magazines and direct marketing trade organizations and tell them to drop your name from their mailing lists.
- When discarding pay stubs, credit card receipts and other such documents, cross out the parts that contain your SSN or other identifying information.
- Stop filling out "warranty registration" cards. Their sole purpose is to collect personal information about you. Your sales receipt is all you need to ensure that whatever you've purchased is covered by a warranty.
TAKE BACK YOUR DATA! TELL YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO SUPPORT LAWS THAT COMPLY WITH THE ACLU'S PRIVACY PRINCIPLES.
- Your personal information should never be collected or given out without your knowledge and permission.
- Organizations must let you know why they're collecting your info; and they can't use it for reasons other than the one you gave permission for (unless they get a new permission from you.)
- They must ensure the privacy of the personal info they collect or maintain on you, retaining only what is necessary info, and only for as long as it's needed.
- You should have the right to examine, copy, and correct your own personal information.
- There must be no national ID system -- either in law or in practice.
- Unrelated data bases must be kept strictly separate so info can't be cross-referenced.
- Personal "biometric" data -- your fingerprints, DNA, retina/iris scans, etc. -- must not be involuntarily captured or used (except for fingerprinting criminals.)
- The government must not prohibit or interfere with the development of technologies that preserve anonymity (such as encryption).
- These principles should be enforceable by law. And no service, benefit or transaction should be conditioned on your waiving your privacy rights.
Produced by the American Civil Liberties Union.