Originally created 06/29/01

Protect your privacy

For years, financial institutions have been selling some of your most sensitive, personal information - stuff you probably thought was sacrosanct.

Credit card companies, banks and mortgage companies have been able to sell everything they know about you, including employment information, income, account balance and assets, and even your Social Security number.

However, in 1999 Congress passed some minimal protections for consumers' privacy. Under the Financial Services Modernization act, your financial institutions must give you notice of three things by July 1:

The kinds of information the institution collects about you.

An explanation of how you can prevent the sale of your customer data to third parties - known as the "opt-out" provision.

An explanation of the institution's policies to prevent fraudulent access to your confidential financial information.

Unfortunately, the opt-out provision puts the burden on the consumers to tell the institution not to sell their personal information to third parties.

When the law was debated in Congress, consumer advocates argued for an "opt-in" provision that would prevent the sharing or sale of your information unless you gave your consent.

Lobbyists for the financial industry, however, persuaded Congress to pass the "opt-out" provision instead.

Despite the weakness of the law, it does provide you with some degree of control. But you must wade through all of the junk that comes with your monthly bills, find the necessary information and execute your "opt-out" request for each institution that you do business with.

After you complete this infuriating chore, and while you're hopping mad about it, it would be a good time to write your congressmen and urge them to strengthen this toothless law with an "opt-in" provision.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees Americans the right to be "secure in their persons, papers, houses, and effects" from unreasonable search and seizure.

If the Constitution protects Americans from government snoops, certainly it should also protect us from the prying eyes of the marketing industry or the unscrupulous theft of our identities.


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