Private companies selling or exchanging information including Social Security numbers without your permission

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MARKETPLACE NPR – Minnesota Public Radio

DAVID BRANCACCIO, anchor: There’s a flip side to this fake ID business. The names and numbers being traded just might be yours. At least this much is for certain, there’s a robust above ground market for personal details most of us would rather keep to ourselves. It’s common practice for private companies to sell or exchange information, including Social Security numbers, without our permission. Commentator and activist Jamie Court worries that officials don’t appreciate how dangerously free wheeling this marketplace has become.

JAMIE COURT: I bought the Social Security numbers of John Ashcroft, CIA Director George Tenet and Karl Rove for $26 each on the Internet. Their home addresses and telephone numbers cost a little more. For $295, another Internet service says it will sell me bank account balances.

Corporations have so freely traded in the individual’s private information that almost everyone’s privacy is at risk, so much so that nine out of 10 people think that corporations should obtain consent before selling an individual’s private information, but year after year, this simple proposition has been defeated in statehouse after statehouse by America’s biggest banks and

This week, Californians could lead the counterstrike to create a ‘do not sell my private information without my permission’ list. Privacy advocates are expected to finish collecting enough signatures to put the issue directly to California voters in March.

If the fifth largest economy in the world requires a corporation to get consent from individuals before selling their information, the standard will become a bellwether for the nation. The privacy issue was so popular in the 2000 election that George Bush campaigned on it. Bush promised to make it a criminal offense to sell a person’s Social Security number without their permission.

Today the White House may be the last private place. I couldn’t buy President Bush‘s Social Security number because he’s too famous. The one man with the power to change the law is one of the only people in America who, by conscious design, doesn’t need protection from it. President Bush should recognize that the public hunger for privacy is an unstoppable force and
deliver on his promises.

FTC Chairman Timothy Muris, who polices identity theft, should be for it. I bought his Social Security number, too. If President Bush doesn’t deliver, then he should put his Social Security number up for sale, but not for any more than anyone else’s cost to buy: 26 bucks. In Los Angeles, I’m Jamie Court for MARKETPLACE.

BRANCACCIO: The comments of Jamie Court, a consumer activist and author of “Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom…and What You Can Do About It.”

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