Net ‘privacy’ bill rewards data marketers

The large print giveth and the small print taketh away

It started as an anti-stalking measure inspired, in part, by the shocking murder of a 20-year-old New Hampshire woman named Amy Boyer, whose twisted stalker tracked her down by purchasing her Social Security number from an on-line broker.

It had been altogether too easy for the man to get the information he needed; thus when New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg (Republican) sought to right the wrong which had facilitated young Amy's demise, he first consulted with her family, and then set out to draft a bill which would make subsequent, similar tragedies more difficult for the deranged to enact.

And perhaps that's what he intended with the so-called Amy Boyer Law, but along the route from good intention to final legislation, the inevitable procession of industry flacks and lobbyists made the rounds on Capitol Hill, doing their best to 'help' Congress draft its laws; and this resulted in several predictable, though unfortunate, alterations.

It was primarily the heavyweight data-marketing front group Individual Reference Services Group (IRSG) which threw its considerable weight into the task of eviscerating the bill.

IRSG's members are some of the biggest players in the field of information commerce, including Pinkerton, Equifax, Infotek, and numerous others. The IRSG holds itself up as the sole redeemer of bottom-feeding commercialisers of private information.

"Individual reference services are commercial services that provide data to help identify, verify, or locate individuals. These services play an important role in facilitating law enforcement, fraud prevention and detection, and a range of business transactions and legal proceedings," the organisation bleats.

It did its work with enviable skill. Carefully-placed loopholes in Gregg's final legislation now permit big data merchants, financial institutions and private detectives to exchange Social Security numbers among themselves, and permit local governments to sell personal records which contain Social Security numbers. The industry-approved language is almost certain to pass as an add-on to an appropriations bill later this week.

Amy Boyer's stepfather, Tim Remsburg, has expressed disappointment in the final product. "It sure isn't as effective as what I asked for at the beginning," he is quoted by the Washington Post as saying. "They want to put Amy's name on this."

So Gregg gets to play Amy's hero while at the same time maintianing solid relations with a well-heeled industry lobby. Remsburg, meanwhile, has had an unpleasant reminder of the old folk warning about being careful what one wishes for, and of the very special pertinence it gains whenever Washington politics are involved. ®

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