Friday, January 2, 2009

Watching the watchers

“And can I get your Social Security number?”

How many times each year are we asked to hand out personal information? Whether it’s applying for a TWIC card, talking to our wireless provider or even giving our phone number at retail stores, we’re asked to hand over bits and pieces of our identity to be catalogued, stored and often later marketed for a variety of purposes.

In the latest example, a former intelligence analyst with the U.S. State Department was sentenced to probation after he pleaded guilty to perusing hundreds of passport records for information from celebrities, purely for his own entertainment.

Lawrence Yontz, 48, of Arlington, VA., was sentenced in mid-December to 12 months of probation and 50 hours community service.

The news release can be found here http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2008/December/08-crm-1131.html.

“In pleading guilty, Yontz admitted that between February 2005 and March 2008, he logged onto the PIERS database and viewed the passport applications of nearly 200 celebrities, athletes, actors, politicians and their immediate families, musicians, game show contestants, members of the media, prominent business professionals, colleagues, associates neighbors and individuals identified in the press. Yontz admitted that he had no official government reason to access and view these passport applications. Rather, he admitted his sole purpose in accessing and viewing these passport applications was idle curiosity.”

Of course, Yontz could have done much more with the amount of information tied to passports.

Every time a government worker handles laptops or cds with tens of thousands of individuals’ personal information, we’re all put at risk. Heck, the Washington Post said http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/01/AR2008010102334_pf.html a year ago that many government Web sites have published Social Security numbers.

It’s no wonder we cringe when handing over more information about ourselves, no matter how innocuous we’re made to believe it is.