Dont Trust Companies to

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2005-06-15 Print this article Print

Protect Your Data"> ChoicePoint doesnt take responsibility for aggregating and propagating filthy data. ChoicePoint says its the data sources—RMVs, court, etc.—that are responsible for the data. If its from the government, it must be good stuff, the thinking goes. Do you trust the government to have the right information on you?
Do you trust the government to protect your data from thieves?
If you answered yes to either question, youre naive. Back when the Real ID Act was on the brink of passing, I chatted with Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. He pointed out that the problem is not that database information cant be encrypted—its that the government has proven untrustworthy in doing so. Look at the metric of the FISMA—the Federal Information Security Management Act. Its legislation that mandates that government agencies be graded on their ability to protect data. The Department of Homeland Security has gotten four Fs in a row. If theyre not securing data, do we really want to trust state RMVs? Your information is already in these databases. Do you want it in one or two databases, or 50? Do you want every potentially crummy, unencrypted piece of data to be linked to every other potentially crummy, unencrypted piece of data? I know Im mixing the topics: weve got dirty data, and weve got unencrypted, unprotected data. But both problems wind up with the same result: people getting thrown into jail for other peoples crimes. People getting stopped at the airport because they have Arabic names that look like terrorists. Innocent people being unfairly persecuted. Whats the answer? I wouldnt advise looking to technology to solve the problem. I would go back to the wise stance of paranoia and being a fierce watchdog over who gets your information and what they plan to do with it. To read David Courseys "Anti-Phishing 101" column with tips on protecting personal data, click here. My favorite spot for how-tos in protecting the spread of personal information is Junkbusters. There, youll be told how to get companies to stop renting or sharing your name; how to get off lists sold by companies that profit off your information,—that means youll be corresponding with—oh, joy!—ChoicePoint, et al.; how to browse the Web without leaving a trail of personal information behind you in the form of cookies; and more. Is it easy? Oh, no. Believe me, Ive been through Junkbusters 12-step program for recovering personal data leakers. One little change in address, and presto! Youre back on the list of data leakage. But it is satisfying, deeply satisfying, to get your personal information as expunged as possible from as many of these dirty data buckets as possible, and I highly recommend it. I really like the idea that I hamper the profits of those who broker my personal information with no remuneration to myself, and who do so with casual disregard for propagating garbage. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest database news, reviews and analysis. Lisa Vaas is Ziff Davis Internets news editor in charge of operations. She is also the editor of eWEEK.coms Database and Business Intelligence topic center. She has been with eWEEK and since 1995, most recently covering enterprise applications and database technology. She can be reached at

Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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