Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Toll on the Information Highway Privacy Is the Price for All That Access

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Toll on the Information Highway Privacy Is the Price for All That Access

Article excerpt

WE live in the time of the information superhighway, which is a wonderful thing because, from the privacy of your own home, all you need is a modem and some software and you can spend quality computer time with, say, Nelson Mandela's Web page or, more likely, Pamela Anderson Lee's.

But there is a danger on this road to limitless possibility, including the danger of too many highway metaphors.

Here's one: If you look closely on the shoulder of the information superhighway, you might find your own personal privacy scattered there like so much road kill. This issue is all the rage on the Internet (also, possibly, in the halls of the AAA). The controversy began this way. Somebody sent out a message on the Net accusing Lexis-Nexis, the on-line database company, of collecting Social Security numbers and making them available to whomever wants them - for a price, of course. As it turns out, Lexis-Nexis is basically innocent. On what the company calls its P-Trak Person Locator Service, it used to include Social Security numbers as part of its information package. But the company bosses had a change of heart after only nine days of offering the numbers and then stopped. I looked up my own name to see what they did offer. In less than a minute's time, the computer spit out my name, address, previous address, month and year of birth and my (unlisted) phone number. Not so innocent, maybe, but not so dangerous either, if you don't count the fact that I pay the phone company not to publish my number. But at this newspaper, and at other companies across America, we have access to a lot more information about you, and about me. You know all about the credit companies. I was once late on my mortgage payment - two weeks late. I thought I'd paid it, but the bill was in the glove compartment - really. And so the mortgage company, in panic, called the credit boys, even though I'd never been even 15 hours late before. The credit company knee-breakers didn't call me and ask if I'd left the bill in the glove compartment. They called my neighbors, who were asked if I still lived in the house. The neighbors thought I was being investigated for a major crime, which, if you think about it, doesn't seem all that unlikely. …

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