But does this really get at the problem? No, it doesnt. The data business has grown up pretty much without regulation. Thats unlikely to change. Consumers—voters and elected officials—like the way it makes their lives easier. ATMs, credit cards, airline reservations, frequent-flyer miles and grocery store discount programs all provide information about where youre going, what youre doing, what you like and what you dont like.
People are also sloppy about how they protect themselves, freely giving away information—including their Social Security number—to enter contests, vote, get a drivers license, do a host of different things. Most people have the numbers memorized; theyre used that often.
And theyre not hard to get a hold of. The best, recent example: Democrat Senator Schumer got Vice President Dick Cheneys Social Security number from a data company. And, yeah, Schumer, who has something of a reputation as a political show-boater, bragged about it too.
That moment of political theater makes Congressman Bartons talk about protecting Social Security numbers a little more intriguing, particularly if youre one of those folks who thinks that a national ID card system is in all of our futures. Social Security numbers have become national ID card numbers, of course. Theyre used to file everything from your college aptitude test scores to your current tax information. Its one reason why information, once collected, is so easily collated between different organizations.
Barton, a Republican, wants to protect the use of the numbers from thieves and others (politically ambitious Democrats, for starters). Hes got an uphill battle, it seems. Getting data companies to rely on different kinds of filing and cross-referencing systems would slow down the time it takes to shift through the massive amounts of information about people thats currently on file. But it would also make some of the apparently seamless transactions we conduct every day a bit slower and slightly more cumbersome.
Thats a change in how consumers and companies conduct themselves; itll be interesting to see how well Bartons concern—which has obvious but no necessarily easily executed technical solutions—is translated into law.
eWEEK.com technology and politics columnist Chris Nolan spent years chronicling the excesses of the dot-com era with incisive analysis leavened with a dash of humor. Before that, she covered politics and technology in D.C. You can read her musings on politics and technology every day in her Politics from Left to Right Weblog.