There are actually a few things the government is good at. Misusing, abusing and especially losing your personal information rank high on the list. Sometimes they don’t even bother losing it; they just put it up on the Internet for anyone to download. Here are a few incidents from last week in which government lost, had stolen and gave away your personal information.
First off, last week burglars broke into the Augusta, Ga., home of Army Staff Sergeant Darrol Boxton and took his work laptop, containing personal information on “at least ten soldiers–including Army account numbers and social security numbers.” It was the fourth time his home had been broken into. You’d think after the first three, you’d put up bars on the windows, or start shooting the burglars, or sell the house, or something.
Also last week, a thief broke into the student life office at Eastern Illinois University and made off with the personal information of 1,400 current fraternity and sorority members. EIU has mailed letters to each of the people whose personal information was compromised and the university plans to stop using Social Security numbers as identifiers by 2008, but for current students, it’s too little, too late.
Your personal information isn’t safe from the government at a private school either. Two weeks ago, someone stole computers from Vanguard University, a Christian school in Costa Mesa, Calif., containing the personal information on 5,105 people who applied for financial aid through the school int he last two years, including those who applied but never enrolled, as well as the personal information of their parents. The school has notified everyone and even set up a web site to warn people who might be affected.
In each of these cases, reports said that the computers were password-protected, but this means little. A password can be bypassed simply by putting the hard drive in another computer and reading whatever you want. To protect the data stored on them, hard drives must also be encrypted.
Though even encryption does little good if the government has gotten its hands on your information, for they will just publish it on the Internet for everyone to see.
In Vermont last week, officials took down part of the Secretary of State’s Web site which provided access to electronic images of Uniform Commercial Code filings because the filings contained personal financial information including Social Security numbers.
These sorts of breaches are normal when dealing with government; many states, counties and cities publish personal information online as part of the public record. Consider what happened to Cynthia Lambert when Hamilton County, Ohio, published her speeding ticket online — complete with her Social Security number and other personal information.
A ring of identity thieves then took those records, created fake ID’s, opened credit accounts, forged checks, and racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in charges, all using her name and others’.
“This website was put out there using my tax dollars, so essentially I paid for them to give my identity to a thief,” Lambert said. . . .
“The one entity that I though was there to protect citizens, the county government, was spoon-feeding these criminals,” she said.
That county has removed private information from its website, and so have some other state and local governments. — KGET
Once your information is out there, you’re screwed. For life. A criminal can swipe your information from a Web site, and not actually use it for months or even years. And then once the heat has died down, there goes your credit.
While breaches do occur in the private sector as well, no business is crazy enough to publish its customers’ personal information on its Web site. Clearly the solution here is for everyone to stop giving personal information to the government. After all, government does not exist to protect us, and couldn’t do so if it tried; it exists to leech from us, rob from us and keep us enslaved.