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P-Trak, Paranoia, & Practical action (fwd)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 23 Sep 1996 22:50:02 -0700
To: Multiple recipients of list <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: P-Trak, Paranoia, & Practical action
Is the hue & cry over personal info in the LEXIS-NEXIS database
overblown? Not yet. It's true that any stalker (corporate or
"self-employed") who subscribes to Lexis can no longer get your
Social Security # merely because he knows your name. But that
search feature *was* available until a few weeks ago when the shit
hit the fan. And any Lexis subscriber can *still* give any Social
Security # as a search key, and find who (if) it matches.
It's important to understand that Lexis' P-Trak is only the tip of
the surveillance iceberg. Lexis does not *collect* this data;
they merely *re-sell* info that has been collected by other firms.
They are one of many "filter feeders" who practice "driftnet
data-fishing" by periodically skimming (in their case, monthly),
whatever new material has been *collected* by other firms.
Eg, phone numbers in P-Trak are *not* obtained from the phone
company (via white pages info), but are obtained from various sources,
usually from businesses that conduct transactions with those who
provide or reveal their phone number (eg, don't ever call an 800#
unless you want your "unlisted" phone # to appear in thousands of
corporate databases). This is why we've fought so hard against
Most resellers are not even known to the larger public, and most of
them have fewer safeguards then Lexis, and less desire to respect
privacy concerns. But does that mean we should let Lexis/Nexis off
the hook? HELL NO!
For better or worse, Lexis' P-Trak is currently the single most
important indicator of public concerns over privacy. You probably
don't like the "full range" of choices in American politics, but you
should still be voting on most issues/campaigns. Likewise, right now
you have a "choice" to be silent on privacy rights, or to cast your
vote against the Dossier Society, in the form of Lexis' P-Trak. I
think it's worthwhile "voting" on this particular initiative.
But recognize how much is lurking below that tip of the surveillance
iceberg. As someone (whose privacy I shall respect) noted elsewhere:
> One of the 'best' (in a perverse way) WWW sites for tracking
> information about people is at the "Stalker's Home Page" ...
> This page has links to worldwide phone directories, mapquest.com
> (so you can get directions to the person), a Zip Code search engine
> that lists all the political contributors from that zip code,
> Oregon License Plage lookup engine, SSN Death index, the Congressional
> Record where SSN's of newly appointed Military officers are recorded,
> FAA Aircraft registration DB, Area Code lookup, US Postal Service DB
> for zip+4, Military Active Duty Locator Service, Email address lookup
> service, Internet address finders and SEC Filing DB.
> A most effective, enlightening and frightening page.
So although free services like "Stalker's Home Page", and _relatively_
affordable (!) services like Lexis -- by providing "more equal access" --
are expanding the universe of stalkers and marketeers, they are also
providing their targets (us) with a more concrete understanding of
what we're up against ... as it continues to grow and metastasize
The issues are similar: tensions between private spheres and public
access, balances of power, and mechanisms for accountability (or lack
thereof). But the direction of corporate technological "progress",
by changing the scale and the pace and the effort required to collate
data, is changing our cultures qualitatively, and certainly without
our informed consent. Consider this unfolding debacle:
Although privacy & civil liberties advocates successfully stripped a
requirement for a new national ID database from the recent Immigration
bill, something just as bad was embraced by America's politician-whores
when inserted in the new Welfare "reform" (gag) bill. It's always
easier to strip the human rights from others after a media bombardment
has demonized them for a while. But we do so at our peril.
Oh, I forget to mention ... the new block grants to the states for
welfare -- and the new people-tracking national ID systems they entail
-- will be administered by *private* corporations. They'll make the
decisions regarding eligibility, services, and payments; who lives and
who dies. Yup, welfare has been privatized! (Thanks Bill ;-) Is
this a great country or what?!
Top private-sector welfare contractors include Lockheed, IBM, and EDS.
Analysts are already speculating whether these corporations could boost
profits by laying off their employees, then administering welfare to
them. So welcome to the machine. Now get out there and "vote"!