Monday, April 03, 2006

US privacy legislation becoming an inextricable mess of inexplicable measures

Europe has universal privacy and data protection legislation. Japan has such a law since April 1st last year. China is working on one. Meanwhile the US privacy and data protection landscape is rapidly turning into an inexplicable mess. Let's look at a few examples.

As it turns out, shady privacy detective-type agencies are in the habit of bribing telco employees into handing over telephone records of people they're stalking. This is a blatant violation of privacy rights by any measure. What is US legislators' response? Propose a bill banning sales of telephone records. Well, that clears that up.

Next one on the list: how about your tax advisor selling your most intimate financial details to the highest bidder? Shouldn't citizens of the country with the most complicated and intractable tax code of all time be able to trust their tax statement preparers completely? No, not at all: it's common practice and you better watch those tiny tick boxes at the bottom of your acceptance form. And unaware of the need for more privacy and protection against identity theft, the IRS now proposes to make this even easier. Will the US legislature start wasting its time working on a special bill to prevent that too?

Not that we're talking about marginally necessary or luxury measures here. A recent survey reports that two thirds of FTSE100 companies are failing the most elementary privacy and data protection standards.

Regular readers of this blog know that we're not talking peanuts, either, where security breaches are concerned: for the most recent crop, see Data protection? You mean we have to lock our cars?, "Next time you break into our database, could you please leave the Californians alone?", There are morons, there are criminal morons, and there's Deloitte, and Every minute a sucker is born, with a one in two chance of being robbed of his identity.

Privacy is well on its way to become the most important human right of the 21st century. In an increasingly information-based, nay information-dependant society, no civilized country can afford to fail its citizens in protection against identity theft and other abuses of their personal data.

The US needs an umbrella privacy and data protection law to guards its citizens' rights to a life without fear of being invaded, robbed of their identities, or having the most intimate details of their lives exposed. And it needs it now, lest it becomes the 'Dirty Old Man of Privacy'.

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