Data Brokers, Communications Carriers and Privacy

Now that the companies who gather public records information for resale have created electronic databases for their information, sifting through data has become easier and the information more accessible, but it has also raised privacy concerns. For example, in March, 2005, a data broker, ChoicePoint, Inc. and Lexis-Nexis, revealed security breaches and announced that thousands of personal records were accessed illegally when thieves used the name and password of a company that had a contract with the data broker. Law students and faculty might recall that Lexis changed its password policy in response to this breach of security. In a General Account Office (GAO) report, the theft of ChoicePoint records is mentioned as a reason the government should be concerned about large data resellers and privacy rule compliance. This GAO report, released in April, 2006, analyzes the relationship between resellers of personal information and federal agencies to review how well information resellers and federal agencies adhere to Fair Information Practices and the Privacy Information Act of 1974. In their findings, the GAO concluded that both information resellers and federal agencies are not doing enough to protect the privacy of American citizens. To read the GAO report, see Personal Information: Agency and Reseller Adherence to Key Privacy Principles at If you have ever used an online directory, such as Yahoo People Search or Anywho or put your phone number into a search engine such as Google to see what turns up, then you know how easy it is to locate personal information on the Web. If you have viewed a real estate service such as at to see what your property is worth, then you are aware that it is possible to view public records information over the Internet. In Dane County, for example, you can view property and tax information at the public records database, Access Dane, at . Many county's now publish tax accessor information on their Web site. So, what can you do if you do not feel comfortable knowing that someone can view your private information? You can select to opt-out of these services, with some effort on your part. Unfortunately, only way to opt-out of web-based directories and public records databases is to visit each site individually and locate the privacy policy or opt-out guidelines. You can also ask U.S. data vendors, such as Acxiom, to take you off their list, but you will still need to visit individual sites to be removed from previous records. Articles on How to Protect Your Privacy Available on the Web Protect Your Privacy at This article discusses how to opt-out of people finder sites, how to turn off web bugs in e-mail, and provides statistics on privacy issues. CDT Guide to Online Privacy. Getting Started: Top 10 Ways to Protect Your Privacy, at Another guide for guarding your online privacy. What About Wiretapping and Electronic Privacy? Wiretapping laws have been on the books since the 1800s, but as the communications technology has moved from copper lines to fiber and digital switches, congress has had to adjusted the laws that compel carriers and communications providers to work with law enforcement. Those laws are: Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. (For more information on FISA, see the Federation of Scientists link at for links to reports, congressional bills, articles and other material concerning FISA). Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) of 1994. Technology itself may affect carriers compliance to law enforcement requests. According to an article in Network World, How Do the Feds Tap Phone Lines? by Sandra Gittlen, 2/ 13/2006, " is in a carrier's best interest to cooperate even in warrantless interceptions because of damage that could come to their lines from non-experienced personnel trying to tap into the line." Although concern for their property might be a convenient excuse by carriers to justify cooperate with law enforcement, the improvements in technology are playing a role in ease of access to our personal information. More Information on Privacy and Technology Other Laws on Privacy, Wiretapping, and Interception of Electronic Communications The Privacy Act of 1974. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986. The Patriot Act of 2001, which amended the ECPA and FISA. Privacy Organizations Privacy organizations provide articles, tips, current news items and links to a variety of privacy information. Electronic Frontier Foundation at EFF provides a twelve tip guide called 12 Ways to Protecting Your Online Privacy at: Also at EFF is a site for Data Retention. At this site, EFF provides links to the EU Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications, EU/2002/58/EC, as well as other information on privacy and data retention. To view this link go to, and scroll to the EU Directive link. Electronic Privacy Information Center at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse at Privacy tips from GetNetWise.Org at Journalist Organizations That Collect Privacy Information Reporters Without Borders at This site provides an article on Internet surveillance titled Internet Under Surveillance, 2004 at Reporters Without Borders Monitors freedom of the press issues, provides a list of countries who have imprisoned reporters and a list of countries who filter the Internet, such as China. Their guidebook, Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents is available at this site at Reports Committee for Freedom of the Press at provides a 50 state survey to phone tapping laws. See A Practical Guide to Taping Phone Calls and In-Person Conversations in the 50 States and D.C. at

Submitted by Jenny Zook, Reference Librarian on September 11, 2007

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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