America’s Slave Trade, Privacy Issues


Susan Harris

There’s a new kind of slave trade going on in the United States today. Few people know about it. Others don’t care. It’s legal. The government is even in on it. It’s not confined to one race; it’s across the board. Every American is a potential victim of the slave trade and those who have somehow been lucky enough to avoid it until now, will very soon be confirmed victims themselves.

People are being sold down the river by their state governments and corporations whose activities are condoned by the state. Right now, the governments of Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas are actively involved. And California residents are on the threshold of becoming victims. And there may be many more. So, what’s it all about?

Last year, a law was silently passed in California, giving the state government, specifically the state’s Employment Development Department, the right to sell residents’ private income data to a bunch of outsiders, namely: private information companies, mortgage lenders, car dealers and other creditors. It has been suggested that since the income information was originally collected by the state to calculate unemployment taxes and benefits, it would be highly improper to start using it for an entirely different purpose. Fourteen million Californians will be affected unless Governor Gray Davis puts a halt to this obscene invasion of privacy.

The information will be sold to Verification of Income and Employment, a joint venture between Santa Ana, California based First American Financial Corp. and Norwest Mortgage which already has the other states noted above in its pocket.

Banks and lending institutions say the information will allow them to process loan applications faster. Advocates of the new law insist that the disclosure of the income information will be given only after individuals give their written permission. But, astoundingly, since the company’s users don’t have to show proof that they obtained any written permission by the victim, they can pretty much do as they please. Some fear that once the information is available electronically, it could fall into the wrong hands or be misused.

Iowa was the first state in 1995 to sell its residents down the river. The government there is as happy as pigs in a mud puddle even though it has acknowledged closing down some business access to its files after there were security breaches. Pity the poor individuals who suffered the consequences. I wonder if they even know it happened.

In California, the government has such information on 85% of all residents. Interestingly, Federal employees aren’t covered. Neither are the self-employed. Good for the self-employed. Shame on the government for excluding itself from having its own privacy hanged on the wash line for all to see.

The California law was so hush-hush that privacy experts and some professional information collectors were unaware of it until the Los Angeles Times revealed the monster hiding in the bowels of Sacramento’s legislature. It was only then that Governor Gray Davis ordered a halt to the release of the data. “I believe a state agency entrusted with confidential personal information on millions of its citizens … has a responsibility to protect the privacy of those citizens. The wholesale distribution of such information on the open market, in my view, would violate that trust and the privacy of those individuals.” Grand words! Then Davis said he would reconsider the issue after the department seeking to do the dastardly deed conducts a full review of the proposal’s merits and risks. It seems as if this should have been done before it became a law and secondly, why reconsider what was just indicated as being morally reprehensible? And if it’s so reprehensible then why are companies such as TRW, Equifax, etc. allowed to operate with such a free hand. Unscrupulous people can access those credit files with the drop of a hat, although the companies themselves won’t let on.

Minnesota’s attorney general just sued U.S. Bancorp for selling customer information to a telemarketer accused of deceptive practices. That’s just one incident. How many times did it happen before? How many other banks do the same thing all along?

After basic privacy issues came to light, Bank of America decided it would stop sharing customer information with telemarketers and third-party companies wanting to sell products or services. Wells Fargo and U.S. Bancorp pretty much said they’d continue as they’ve always done – provide people’s social security numbers, telephone numbers, bank account numbers and other personal information to outside companies. Social Security numbers? You mean the numbers that we hold most sacred, the numbers that we are told to protect at all costs. The numbers that absolutely everyone insists we have to give up at every request? What the hell is going on in this country anyway?

Let’s face it, privacy rights are being thrown out the window because the government is on it. The California Department wanting to sell residents’ data to a private company would earn at least $15-million over ten years. It’s greed! And we, stupid little victims that we are, sit back and let it happen.

The slave trade did not die out after the Civil War. It’s alive and well and being carried out on some level in every state of the ‘new’ union.