Vast Employment Database Concerns Privacy Advocates

July 26, 1999 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON, DC — Employers are giving millions of employment and salary records to outside companies that share the data with landlords and others, raising alarm among privacy experts, USA Today reported.

According to the paper, companies such as Walgreens and Boeing have been so bogged down with requests by landlords, bankers and others that they have turned to firms specializing in employment verification.

The result: These firms have quietly amassed more than 28 million records, about a fifth of the USA’s workforce, which averages 137,673,000 a year.

Although information is given out only with a worker’s authorization, privacy experts fear the potential for abuse.

“The concern is that here is one more giant database,” says William Hubbartt, author of The New Battle over Workplace Privacy. “What if a hacker gets in or someone is careless in how the information is used?”

How it often works:

Companies give or electronically feed payroll and other data to the employment verification company. Outsiders needing to check a worker’s payor job history can access the information over the phone or, in some cases, the Internet or fax.

“Just the fact that salary is in a database is uncomfortable,” Lewis Maltby, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Workplace Rights Project told the paper. “Eventually, all databases leak.”

According to USA Today, those seeking the data pay $5 to $10. At one St. Louis-based firm, large employers might pay about $10,000 to set up the service.

In order to get the data, lenders and other outsiders need a secret pass-code obtained from the employee. Outsiders must enter information on the employee’s name, Social Security number and company name or code.

Though employees generally can’t keep their employer from sharing the data, they can have information blocked so it won’t be shared with others.

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