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ASK A LAWYER
A PRIVACY TOOLKIT
Unless you live in a cave & pay cash for everything, you can't avoid
some incursions into your privacy. Govts & businesses have you in their
files. But there are many things you can do to get & maintain a degree
of privacy & to check that the data kept on you is accurate.
GET YOUR CREDIT REPORTS once each year from each of the three major
national credit bureaus:
Equifax _ 1-800-685-1111
TRW _ 1-800-392-1122
Trans-Union _ 1-800-851-2674 or 1-714-738-3800.
If you've been denied credit, the reports are free; TRW will send you
one free per year. If you find errors in the reports, try to have them
corrected. You have the right to insert your own statement in the report
if the credit agency won't delete entries you believe are wrong.
OBTAIN A COPY of your health file from the Medical Info Bureau, an
insurance industry arm that collects info you've allowed your doctors &
insurers to share. Write: MIB Info Office, PO Box 105, Essex Station,
Boston, Mass. 02112, for a disclosure form; include your name & mailing
address. If you find an error, MIB will fix it.
ASK TO SEE your personnel file. Michigan is among the handful of states
that give you a legal right to see your file, said Evan Hendricks,
editor of the Privacy Times newsletter. Check it for accuracy.
CUT DIRECT-MAIL advertising to your home by sending a short letter to
the Direct Marketing Association, Mail Preference Service, PO Box 9008,
Farmingdale, N.Y. 11735-9008. Include the name of the person to be
removed from lists, including variations on spelling, & complete
address. The DMA is a voluntary organization, but most DMA members
follow the guidelines. Reputable catalog companies & magazines tell you
that they will rent out your name on a marketing list unless you take
steps to opt out, usually checking a box on a response form.
GET AN UNPUBLISHED phone number, or make sure the published listing
gives only your city, not the street address. People with Caller ID,
however, see the caller's number before they answer. In Michigan you can
thwart this for local calls by punching *67 before dialing. There is no
way to disable the identifying feature when you call an 800 or 900
number. They'll have a record.
Telemarketers _ people trying to sell you stuff over the phone _ must
stop calling you if you individually tell them to put you on a ``do
not call'' list, according to the federal Telephone Consumer Protection
Act. If they don't, you may be able to win a small-claims court
judgment; you can also report them to the FCC.
Watch your wireless conversations. Cordless, cellular, mobile, & ship-
to-shore communications can be monitored.
OTHER TIPS * Businesses want to keep detailed records about you & your
purchases. If this bothers you, be wary of frequent-buyer programs &
other tracking systems. Only fill in your name & address on warranty
* You can demand that businesses tell you what kind of data they keep
about you. Laws guarantee you access to the data & require that some
records remain confidential, including video rentals, cable TV service,
student records, credit reports & data kept on you by federal agencies.
* Your garbage is not your property once it reaches the curb or trash
bin. Shred or tear up sensitive info, including phone & credit card
records, before throwing it away.
* When making credit card purchases, be sure cashiers don't run your
card through more than once. Don't write credit card numbers or your
Social Security number on checks or credit sales slips. Tear up the
* Your Social Security number can unlock a lot of info about you. Don't
give it to just anyone. Generally, it can be required only for matters
with tax consequences, such as a home sale, bank account & brokerage
account. Some businesses will insist; it's your choice whether to go
elsewhere. Schools are not entitled to your children's Social Security
number; college students can demand an alternative if it is used as a
* Change computer passwords regularly, & avoid obvious ones such as
your birth date or spouse's name. Try mixing letters & numbers.
* If you're really nervous, use encryption, or scrambling devices, for
WHERE TO LEARN MORE
``Your Right to Privacy: A Basic Guide to Legal Rights in an Info
Society,'' $9.45 from the American Civil Liberties Union, Dept. L, PO
Box 794, Medford, N.Y. 11763.
``Privacy for Sale: How Computerization Has Made Everyone's Private Life
an Open Secret,'' by Jeffrey Rothfeder. (Simon & Schuster, 1992, $22.)
``How to Get Anything on Anybody: The Encyclopedia of Personal
Surveillance,' by Lee Lapin (Intelligence Inc.,1991, $34.95.1-800- 805-
The Eden Press has a catalog of privacy-related materials. Write PO Box
8410, Fountain Valley, Calif. 92728, or call 1-714-556-2023 anytime.
Privacy Journal, a monthly newsletter written & published by Robert
Ellis Smith, will keep you up-to-date with anecdotes, laws & ideas. Cost
is $109 per year. Smith also publishes a variety of other reference
materials, including books. PO Box 28577, Providence, R.I. 02908.
Phone: 1-401-274-7861 weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Privacy Times, a twice-monthly newsletter, compiled by Evan Hendricks.
PO Box 21501, Washington, D.C. 20009, 1-202-829-3660 weekdays from 9
a.m. to 6 p.m. Subscription: $250 per year for 23 issues.
Privacy & American Business. A new, bimonthly newsletter from Alan
Westin, a longtime privacy expert & Columbia University professor; $395
a year; $95 for libraries & schools. Write: Privacy & American Business,
Two University Plaza, Suite 414, Hackensack, N.J. 07601. Phone: 1-201-
996-1154 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse offers a package of 12 fact sheets covering
a variety of privacy matters for $3, including postage. Write Privacy
Rights Clearinghouse, University of San Diego, 5998 Alcala Park, San
Diego, Calif. 92110. Or call 1-619-298-3396 from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Detroit time weekdays.
The ACLU has a Privacy & Technology Project in its Washington office,
122 Maryland Ave. NE, Wash, D.C. 20002, 1-202-544-1681 9 to 5 weekdays.
Electronic Frontier Foundation works to preserve civil liberties in
cyberspace. Call 1-202-347-5400 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. weekdays or send
Internet E-mail to [email protected]
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, PO Box 717, Palo Alto,
Calif. 94302, 1-415-322-3778 from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Detroit time
weekdays. E-mail: [email protected]
Electronic Privacy Info Center, 666 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Suite 301,
Washington, D.C. 20003, 1-202-544-9240 anytime. Inet e-mail to
Privacy International, publishes quarterly newsletter & holds
conferences: Morgan Towers, Morgan Road, Bromley BR1 3QE, United
Kingdom. Internet E-mail to [email protected]
Bankcard Holders of America. Write 524 Branch Drive, Salem, Va. 24153.
Nonprofit group deals with credit rights & other consumer credit issues.
The Internet. You can find a tremendous amount of info about privacy on
this global network of networks. You can get a direct connection or
subscribe to a commercial on-line service such as America Online or
Delphi. Several providers in
Some Internet resources:
Usenet Newsgroups _ alt.privacy, alt.privacy.clipper, alt.security.pgp,
alt.crypto, comp.org.eff.talk, comp.org.eff.news, comp.org.cpsr.talk,
comp.org.cpsr.announce, alt.cypherpunks, sci.crypt.
Gopher _ gopher.eff.org, gopher.cpsr.org; these systems hold vast
amounts of info on privacy & electronic communications _ tremendous
E-mail _ Several organizations publish useful on-line newsletters.
EPIC Alert is a biweekly journal about emerging privacy issues: send E-
mail to [email protected] & you'll automatically get on the list. For EFF's
EFFector Online newsletter, send E-mail to [email protected], with
message reading: subscribe effector-online.
CompuServe. The biggest of the major commercial on-line services. The
Electronic Frontier Foundation maintains a forum with many privacy-
related files. (GO EFFSIG) Another good source of info is the Law Forum
(GO LAWSIG). For info about CompuServe, call 1-800-848-8199 anytime.
America Online. EFF maintains a presence here as well; keyword is EFF.
For info, call 1-800-827-6364 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays & 12 to 9
Federal Privacy Act. Use this to get access to any personal files
federal agencies are holding on you. Congress publishes a report, ``A
Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Info Act & the Privacy Act of
1974 to Request Govt Records.'' It's available in Govt Depository
Libraries & through the Govt Printing Office & govt bookstores. In
Detroit, the bookstore is in the McNamara Building at 477 Michigan Ave..
Also, the federal govt publishes ``Privacy Act Issuances,'' a biannual,
five-volume set describing in detail every kind of Privacy Act record
kept by every federal agency.
The Freedom of Info Act. No law is more important if you want to know
what the govt is doing in the name of you, the taxpayer. To learn more
about the federal FOIA, call 1-202-514-3642 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
weekdays. An advocacy group, National Security Archives, offers an FOIA
user's guide; write: 1755 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Suite 500, Washington,
D.C. 20036, or call 1-202-797-0882 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.
Federal Trade Commission, for credit bureau problems. From Michigan &
Ohio, call the Cleveland regional office: 1-216-522-4207 8:30 a.m. to 5
p.m. weekdays. Or write FTC at 668 Euclid Ave., Suite 520A, Cleveland,
Encryption software & devices. You can encrypt sensitive files on your
PC with software from a number of companies, such as Symantec's Norton
Utilities. Many companies, including Lotus Development Corp., Novell,
Microsoft, WordPerfect, AT&T & IBM sell products that incorporate
encryption based on the top-notch RSA Data Security Inc. system. For
more info, call RSA at 1-415-595-8782 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays.
Or Inet E-mail to [email protected]
Sources: Free Press research; Privacy Times; Privacy Journal; Whole
Earth Review; Bankcard Holders of America; U.S. Office of Management &
from Detroit FreePress gopher Copyright, Detroit Free Press 5/1/94
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