PRIVACY FOR SALE; Consumer groups urge more ‘Net protection

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The Boston Herald

Advocacy groups calling for stronger state laws to protect consumer privacy said they purchased the Social Security numbers of Gov. Mitt Romney and Mayor Thomas M. Menino off the Internet for $30.

The groups today are expected to release a scorecard showing how the Boston area compares to other major cities in controlling corporate intrusions into the lives of residents. The Boston area, they say, received a C.

The consortium, which includes the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, the Massachusetts Money in Politics Project, the Massachusetts Sierra Club and others, is calling for stiffer laws to protect consumer privacy. To draw attention to their report, they said they dug up Romney’s and Menino’s Social Security numbers – something Internet privacy experts said is easy to do these days.

“If true, this is a concern,” said Seth Gitell, press secretary for Menino, adding the mayor wants to learn more details. Romney’s office declined comment.

“I know someone else that got George Bush’s Social Security number,” said Richard Smith, a Brookline-based Internet privacy guru. “All you need is a name and a mother’s maiden name. There are people out there that have them in databases, and they’ll sell them to you.”

That can lead to identity theft, credit card fraud, destroyed credit card histories and other problems.

“Once you get a Social Security number, you can get anything,” said Eric Bourassa, a consumer advocate with the Massachusetts Public Interest Group.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Cheryl Jacques (D-Needham) and Rep. Cheryl Rivera (D-Springfield) would provide more protections for consumers and businesses against identity theft, and would toughen penalties for identity thieves.

The advocacy groups said their study looks at a broad range of areas to score how corporate intrusions into personal lives and society are controlled in the Boston area. The groups looked at privacy rights, legal rights, protection of community space, commercialization of schools, whistleblower protections and other areas.

Consumer Watchdog
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