WE WANT INFORMATION They know practically everything about you except if you've been sleep

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WE WANT INFORMATION They know practically everything about you except if you've been sleeping or you're awake. And it's all on computer. The worst thing is that practically anybody can access it. It's called Information America. If you have a modem, a home computer and can afford $95 an hour fees, you too can access Information America's online computer database, crossindexing the Postal Service's National Change of Address file (NCOA), major publisher and direct marketing companies' client information, birth records, driver's license records, phone books, voter registrations, records from up to 49 governmental agencies, and more. Information America boasts up-to-date information on over 111 million Americans, 80 million households and 61 million telephone numbers. If you're not scared yet, you should be. Because complete strangers can find out where you live, tracing you through extensive relocations even if they have only a last name, or a state, an old address or telephone number. They can find your unlisted telephone numbers, who you live with, and gauge your income by the kind of residence you live in and your locale. Ever declared bankruptcy, had your wages garnished, or been involved in other legal entanglements? Do you own any real estate, or have any corporate affiliations? Unless you live your life as carefully as Thomas Pynchon, Information America will provide detailed information on you and up to ten of your neighbors. It's anyone's one-stop surveillance convenience. Over the past hvo decades, credit bureaus, telephone companies and direct marketers in particular have collectively amassed complete consumer profiles on over 150 million Americans. But for the most part, this information has been used only to predict consumers' tuture buying habits, or worse: to influence them, targehng only those consumers who might be receptive to certain "messages." Direct marketers in particular live and die by the reliability of their data-imagine how expensive it would be for Greenpeace to send mailers to Rush Limbaugh fans. Gradually, within our consumer sphere, information about the people doing the consumption has become the commodity. Marketers wanting to create a list of overweight women can buy vital statistics from the Department of Motor Vehicles. 1-800 and 1-900 numbers which advertise "Bad Credit? No Credit? No Problem!" capture names addresses and telephone numbers of callers; major financial institutions buy that information to screen candidates for credit and loans, on the presumption that anybody who'd call such a number is probably a bad REVIEW PEOPLE FINDER MULTITRACK allows you to review the status of each of the searches you requested. You may choose to view the results of each completed search at this time. Search results will be stored for seven days from the day you requested the search. You may review the search results at any time during the seven-day time period through the Review People Finder MultiTrack option. Search results include a summary listing of names that match the information entered (up to 300 names for nationwide and up to 100 names for individual state searches). From the summary, you may select individual profiles and neighbor listings. IA's clients are mostly lawyers and paralegals working at large legal firms, but the FBI is also a major IA client. Television programs in the 60's and 70's which depicted an FBI "Big Brother" computer system scared the public enough so that it and Congress have continually resisted efforts by the FBI to implement such a system. In the mid 80's, for example, Congress voted against the implementation of an FBI computer system which would allow them to monitor telephone calls. Information America is the perfect solution for the FBI's bureaucratic quandary. Because of hindering regulations on the government, private sector database stockpiling has outstripped governmental efforts. Moreover, private sector information is constantl fresh-tested and updated through marketing efforts. (ln fact, in 1984, the IRS suffered a public relations disaster when they solicited demographic information from direct marketers for the purpose of tracking down tax-cheats). As a result, an interesting and lucrative symbiotic relationship has grown up between the government and the private sector; Big Brother can circumvent privacy laws by farming the work out.' IA has existed for at least three and a half years, but has remained relatively unknown to the public. IA's low profile isn't surprising; public backlash against Lotus' "MarketPlace" CD-ROM-which contained marketing information on only a few million people at most-forced Lotus to abandon its project altogether after having invested tens of thousands of dollars in advertising alone. What Lotus was doing wasn't unusual; large direct marketing firms like National Demographics & Lifestyles (NDL) have been somewhat covertly marketing consumer names and information on CD-ROM for years (with information such as how many telephones you have; the approximate ages of your household's members; the gender of the household head; the number and type of cars your household has; what the mortgage value on your house is; estimated incomes for the heads of the household, etc.) The difference was that Lotus was offering their CD-ROM commercially so that anybody could, as the public claimed, have the power of "Big Brother" at their fingertips. If the public knew about Information America, knew that anyone could tap its eye-spy capabilities, the backlash would be tremendous. To market its database services, IA seems to have adopted a grass-roots kind of approach. IA employs liaisons in major metropolitan cities whose job it is to research and contact prospective clients-lawyers, for example. I am unaware of any advertising in specialized journals. We take for granted the existence of government-run databases which contain even more detailed information on Americans than IA possesses. Even so, those databases are considerably smaller, and what's more, they're well-regulated: the agencies that run them accountable by law. (While federal privacy laws forbid most government agencies from seizing individuals' financial records, they do not prevent employers, state agencies and other individuals from probing bank accounts, nor do they protect medical records, personnel data, etc.). The potential credit risk-one they might not know about. (So even if you just casually called, you could end up financially blacklisted). Selling and gathering data is as profitable a business as the marketing for which data like this is used. Not until recently has information like this been commercially available in a single database, specifically with law enforcement, private investigators, bounty hunters and lawyers in mind. Information America is the first accessible service to make use of previously collected data for the express purpose of providing the up-to-date whereabouts and personal profiles of as many Americans as possible. Infor mation America "whether you are conducting a background check, looking for a witness, skip tracing, or gathering information for court, [lnformation America] gives you. . . a quick, easy method for gathering information on individuals across the country. . . at the touch of a key." There are 19 main search-options available through IA, which fall into three categories: Corporate, UCC, & Related Records; Nationwide Services; and County & Court Records. (see figure 1 ) The power of People Finder lies not only in its ability to tap various large store-houses of data, but in its flexibility of search criteria. People Finder is made up of four services: SKIP TRACER, TELEPHONE TRACKER, PERSON LOCATOR, and PEOPLE FINDER MULTITRACK. (see figure 2) Depending on the information available, a People Finder profile may include current address, telephone number, residence type, length of residence, gender, date of birth, up to four household members and their dates of birth, and a neighbor listing. (see figure 3) SKIP TRACER traces a person's moves or Verifies the current address when all you have is an old address. You will enter the person's name, street number, street name, and either the zip code or city/state. If your subject is in IA's files, a profile will be displayed that includes the address he moved to (or current address), phone number, length of residence, and more. You may also request a list of ten of the person's neighbors. A profile on the current resident at your subject's old address and up to ten neighbors there may also be available. This gives you several contacts to help you find your subject. TELEPHONE TRACKER tracks down the owner of a telephone number. You must enter the phone number and either the area code or the city/state. If a match is found, you may look at a profile of that individual/ residence and a listing of up to ten neighbors. PERSON LOCATOR helps you locate a person when specific address information is unavailable. Enter the person's name and indicate whether you wish to conduct a search by city, state(s), zip or nationwide. Person Locator will compile a list of names (up to 300 names for nationwide and up to 100 names for individual state searches) that match the information entered. When you find the right name, you may request a profile and neighbor listing for that individual. (see figure5 4,5 & 6) PEOPLE FINDER MULTITRACK helps you locate multiple people during one search. Search results are available the following business day. For each of vour subjects, enter the name and indicate the geographic area you wish to search-nationwide, multi-state, state, citv or zip. You may enter up to 25 names per search. Sign off the system and let Information America do the work for you. The following business day, log on to Information America and access the People Finder Menu by entering PF at the Information America Beginning Menu. From the People Finder Menu, you may view the results of People Finder MultiTrack by entering RR (Review People Finder Mu1tiTrack). for abuse by a system like Information America-devoid of any checks and balances-is spectacular. MoD-a group of self-styled cyber-outlaws recently busted-has already demonstrated this to a small extent when they easily penetrated Information America and used its services to locate and harass people across the country. The same technology advances which were supposed to make at-home shopping a convenience and tailor marketing to your needs have now made surveilling you cost-effective, accurate and as easy as touching a key. One of the least reported items to come out of the Iran/Contra proceedings concerned Oliver North and his role with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA)-the organization which cobrdinates relief efforts across the United States during natural disasters. North had drawn up FEMA contingency plans of a different sort: in the event of war in Central America, the Constitution was to be suspended and FEMA was to round up aliens (particularly Hispanics) and U.S. Citizens considered "subversive," and intern them in Manzanar-like camps. Databases like Information America would no doubt have been employed in locating the whereabouts of these people. The importance of Information America isn't what it can do for you; rather, what can be done with it fo you. THE FUTURE IS NOW And Information America is just the beginning. Just the tip of the cyberg. Even if there are legitimate uses for stockpiling information-which is questionable-there aren't adequate safeguards against illegitimate use. It's dangerous enough for uncaring institutions to maintain digital dossiers on us; even more dangerous for interested strangers to be able to access them. And anybody who can follow on-line help files can navigate Information America. The distinction between "cyberspace" and "the real world" is blurred, and things that happen in the electronic realm are already impacting our evervday lives. A battle is being waged in the workplace over the sanctitv of inter-office electronic mail; prospective employers and insurance companies are screening candidates' backgrounds electronically, often making decisions based on errant data.(2) On the Internet-data highways which approximate a "global village"-billions of bvtes of message traffic (including mail) are routinely archived for later perusal. In the name of terrorism, organized crime and the war against drugs, the FBI and FCC have been introducing legislation which would encourage telecommunications carriers to provide decrypted versions of privacy-enhanced communications and ensure that improvements in telephone technology do not interfere with the ability to secretly record conversations.(3) Even libraries are not immune from the intrusive efforts of meme mongers; in the late 80's the FBI quietlv asked university librarians across the United States to maintain lists af patrons who checked out "subversive" books (they refused). As our global community becomes more dependent on information, the ability to control and subvert that information will spell Mastery. Crude information brokerages between private investigators, insurance agents and employees of the Social Security Administration, the IRS, DMV and the FBI have already been uncovered.(4) The next step could be information mercenaries-well-equipped cyber-rogues skilled in traversing the net and stealing any information you can afford to buy. Ironically, the very existence of these mercenaries may be our only buffer against the absolute power of these information brokers. [M2] FOOT NOTES (1) "FBl said to seek Compiled Lists for use in its Field Investigations," DMNews; April 20, 1992 (2) "FBl Eavesdropping Challenged," The Washington Post, February 17, 1992. (3) 'Privacy for Sale:' Tales of Data Rape," San Francisco Examiner, September 13, 1992. (4) "lndictments of 'lnformation Brokers,"' The Privacy Journal, January, 1992.


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