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PRIVACY Forum Digest     Wednesday, 31 December 1997     Volume 06 : Issue 18

            Moderated by Lauren Weinstein (         
              Vortex Technology, Woodland Hills, CA, U.S.A.

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        for any materials posted on or related to the PRIVACY Forum.

        Banks, Telemarketing Lies, and the Fine Print 
            (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
        ATM card problems (Joe Bates)
        GSM mobile network in Switzerland reveals location of its users
           (Daniel Polak)
        Toll records (Phil Agre)

 *** Please include a RELEVANT "Subject:" line on all submissions! ***
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   Quote for the day:

      "Must have been murder.  She always knitted so carefully."

           -- Roderick Femm (Robert Morley)
              "The Old Dark House" (Columbia; 1963)


Date:    Sun, 21 Dec 97 14:47 PST
From: (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
Subject: Banks, Telemarketing Lies, and the Fine Print

Greetings.  Well, we're at the end of 1997 (by the time many of you read
this it will already be 1998), and it's been another banner year for privacy
problems.  As we surge inexorably toward the 21st century, it looks more and
more as if "privacy" may end up being one of those terms that will be so
changed as to be unrecognizable in dictionaries of the future--Newspeak,
indeed.  A few topics to cover today...

I recently received a submission here at the PRIVACY Forum that presented
some interesting complexities.  It was from a reader (who fully identified
himself) who in addition to a technical job also worked as a telemarketer
for a major telemarketing firm.

He was concerned over being required to explicitly lie to the persons he
called to sell a "credit watch" service.  Specifically, his telemarketing
scripts (associated with and he said approved by one of the U.S.'s largest
banks, which was providing the customer data), told him to lie to callers
regarding Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and the security of customer
personal information.  SSN data was being used to "verify" the customers.
The telemarketers were to say that they "only" had the first three and last
four digits of the customers' SSN.  They were to say that the bank had not
provided them with full SSNs. 

Unfortunately, he reported that this was simply untrue.  He said that the
full SSN for all customers always appeared on their screens, and much of the
time full date of birth info appeared as well.  As for security standards,
he claimed that most of the callers were college students or other young
people, that there were no security measures, and that anyone was free to
copy down whatever information they wished.  He said they were told
to lie and claim that high security standards for customer data
were in place.

Given the stature of the organizations involved, I wanted to verify his
story as far as possible.  While he was fully identified to me, he
(understandably) didn't want his name mentioned here in the Forum.  I had
further e-mail and telephone exchanges with this person, and asked for and
received faxed copies of the telemarketing scripts, all of which confirmed
his story to the extent such materials could.  

I was in the process of working toward verifying his accusations at the
level of the firms themselves when he reported that the SSN field in their
displays had just begun starting to blank the center two digits.
Coincidence?  Perhaps.  In any case, this made the practicality of pursuing
this issue questionable, so I will not name the organizations that were
involved.  My inclination, judging from my interactions with this person and
past experience, is to believe his story.

But even though it seems unlikely that more can be done regarding this
particular case, the bottom line lessons seem valid regardless.  There is
more and more evidence that banks and other financial institutions are
treating people not so much as valued customers but as information fodder
for marketing "schemes" of all sorts, usually without their explicit

Key to this trade in personal data are many of the commercial database firms.
A number of these large firms have recently announced a voluntary agreement
to "restrict" the release of personal information to the "general public."
Unfortunately, their definitions would seem to leave holes gaping enough to
allow anyone with an ounce of intelligence or ingenuity to still gain access
to whatever information they really wanted.  "Voluntary" of course means
that there will still be firms out there selling data who are not abiding
by even this modest restriction.

The majority of information abuses are from commercial entities and
professionals who wouldn't be considered to be the "general public" in most
cases.  Let's face it--if these database firms restricted access to the data
broadly, there wouldn't be anyone left to whom they could sell the data--and
selling data on individuals is key to their core businesses.  It's not members
of the "general public" who are the real problem when it comes to misuse of
personal data.

Many persons believe that their bank information is among their best
protected personal data from commercial abuse.  But is your checking account
balance private, or is it really public information?  Usually, essentially
the latter--since most banks make it trivial for anyone to verify through
automated or other systems whether a given check will clear--a simple binary
search can often pin down a highly precise value.  As usual, no "need to
know" verification of the party making the query is typically performed.
Another example of a system with a legitimate, valid purpose that can be
easily abused.

For that matter, have you ever bothered to read the "fine print" in those
little credit card and bank disclosure booklets that show up from time to
time?  Most of them border on the bizarre.  Basically, they usually retain
the right to do pretty much anything with the information they have on you,
including providing it to others for marketing.  They also usually attempt to
indemnify themselves for any problems that might result from release of data
to persons who call them and present your SSN or other trivial identifier.
Don't like it?  With the massive consolidation in the financial industry,
there aren't all that many choices left, and they all pretty much use the
same boilerplate text. 

Meanwhile, any hopes that the recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
investigations into personal data abuse would help the situation have been
pretty much dashed.  The FTC is recommending the usual "voluntary
controls"--which essentially means firms will still be free to do pretty
much whatever they want with your personal data.

It's clear that the commercial realm--sort of a "Big Brother, Inc."--is
still firmly in control.  Personal data remains the same "information
potatoes"--to be bought and sold like vegetables--as I've referred to them
in the past.

Until we bite the bullet and start the work to develop national legislation
to control the use and abuse of personal data in the commercial arena, we
will continue to be forced to chip away our lives, little datum piece by
piece, by the commercial entities who take those chips and grind them up
into their profit centers deluxe.  

All the best to everyone for the new year.  Take care.

Lauren Weinstein
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum


Date:    Sat, 20 Dec 1997 08:45:35 -0800
From:    Joe Bates <>
Subject: ATM card problems

Like hundreds of thousands of California customers, I received a mailing
from Wells Fargo enclosing my "new" ATM card and notifying me that my
old card would expire soon and to start using the new one. I didn't read
most of the fine print (silly me) because I didn't intend to use the
debit features. I don't like the idea of withdrawing from my bank
account without knowing the running balance. I use either cash or a
credit card and generally pay off balances every month.

Then I read the first post concerning Wells Fargo Bank's new "Check
card" and I called their customer service to get my new card cancelled
and have another card sent without the debit and/or Mastercard functions
attached. At first, the customer rep told me that the card was
absolutely safe and I shouldn't worry. She also said that once
activated, it was impossible to go back to the old card. 

So, we moved up a level to her supervisor and discussed how Wells Fargo
marketing materials lie to the customer on the first page of the
announcement by stating that your old card is expiring. It is not. If
you don't want the new card, you can call and refuse it and continue to
use you old (non-debit) card. After she finally acknowledged that there
might have been a "bit of confusion" generated by their literature, she
said that she could replace my debit card but would have to cancel it
and send me a new non-debit card in the mail. The process could take
several weeks and in the interim, I would have no access to the ATM

She said that the computer would not allow a customer to have two cards
at the same time. When I pointed out to her that hundreds of thousands
of customers currently were in possession of an old and a new debit card
simultaneously right then as a result of their own mailing, she decided
that it was time for the next level of supervision to join in the

Finally it was settled that they would go through sales to send me a new
card without the Mastercard/debit portion and then would cancel my
current card 10 days after mailing the new card. That was 15 days ago
and I haven't gotten anything yet.

The moral is:  1) You can keep your old card if you call in and cancel
the new one. 2) You can deactivate the "Check/Mastercard" portion of
your new card if you have destroyed you old card. Simply call customer
service and request that they deactivate that feature and that they
comfirm in writing that they have done so. Tell them that you feel that
it is insecure and until they allow the customer to use a PIN when using
the debit function and build in some security that prevents legitimate
checks from bouncing in the event the card or the number is used
fraudulently, you are not interested in a service designed mainly to
generate new fees for Wells Fargo.

Most of all read ALL the literature and don't throw it away until you've
settled things.  

Joe Bates


Date:    Mon, 29 Dec 97 21:35:00 +0100
From:    Daniel Polak <>
Subject: GSM mobile network in Switzerland reveals location of its users

In tonight's newspaper an article in the Swiss Sonntags Zeitung of yesterday 
is quoted. The article reports that the Swiss telecom company Swisscom has 
stored information on the whereabouts of 1.000.000 users of their mobile 
phone system. The information has been kept for longer than 6 months. 
According to Swiss police authorities the information is a treasure trove. 
It allows them to pinpoint the location of any subscriber to within a few 
100 meters.

It is ironic that a country that prides itself (overly) on the privacy of 
its bank system does not care about the privacy of its mobile phone users.

   [ I've seen the full version of the article described above by Daniel.
     The key issue revolves around the amount of data being routinely
     recorded from any cell phone "switched on" at any particular time.  The
     Swiss controversy is in contrast to countries such as Australia and
     Great Britain where apparently such intra-cell location data is not
     routinely stored for long periods except for particular "target" phones
     upon court order or other law enforcement request.  So says the
     article, in any case.  

     An engineer involved in the design of the Swiss system, in response to
     the article, suggests that there is too much detailed location data for
     so much to be routinely archived, and that it isn't always clear who is
     really using a particular cell phone in any case.  However, he seems to
     agree that inter-cell location data is archived for about a year and
     a half.  I might add that in metropolitan areas, an individual cell site
     (particularly with PCS) can be extremely small, making more accurate
     location data possibly of little additional value in many cases.

     What does this mean for U.S.-based cell systems?  Here in this country,
     the FCC has mandated a two-stage implementation of highly accurate
     location tracking facilities for cell systems, specifically for 911
     emergency use.  However, all manner of call record data (whether
     cellular or conventional landline) has traditionally been granted
     extremely minimal protections in the U.S., far less than the
     protections related to monitoring of the actual content of calls.  This
     suggests that in the absence of laws to the contrary, detailed
     intra-cell location data may well be widely available for all manner of
     non-911 tracking applications, both in realtime and retroactively, to
     the limit of archiving policy and rapidly advancing technology.

     This form of "data creep," where information is collected ostensibly
     for one purpose but then made available for other applications, is an
     increasingly serious one.  The retroactive "filtering" of vast amounts
     of routinely collected location data to search out particular events
     "after the fact" can be especially problematic.  How would we feel
     about this if the technology existed to record the content of all
     telephone calls, but by law it took a court order to go back and search
     through the call archives to pick out conversations of interest later?
     Or how about cameras in every home, the tapes from which would
     theoretically remain unviewed unless retroactively examined under
     court order?  Farfetched?  Of course, but the basic principle would
     appear to be much the same as the one at issue in the Swiss cell phone
     case, and quite possibly here in the U.S. cell systems as well quite

     In George Orwell's "1984," nobody ever knew for sure when their
     particular telescreen was monitoring them.  So people quite sensibly
     behaved as if they were being monitored all the time.  The result was a
     society with comparatively little crime, and virtually no freedom as we
     know the term.  A reasonable tradeoff?  Points of view will differ.

     Orwell didn't visualize the Cellular and PCS networks of today.  If he
     had, would they have been part of the basic infrastructure through
     which the members of his fictional society were monitored?  It's
     something to ponder as we consider the necessity of laws to control the
     vast amounts of personal data being collected by burgeoning technologies
     of all sorts.

         -- PRIVACY Forum MODERATOR ]


Date:    Thu, 25 Dec 1997 15:32:45 -0800 (PST)
From:    Phil Agre <>
Subject: Toll records

The 11/3/97 issue of the New York Daily News blares, "IT'S E-Z TO SPY:
Toll lane records used in crime cases; divorce court could be next".  The
article, by Alice McQuillan and James Rutenberg concerns law enforcement
use of the records kept by the E-Z Pass toll collection system that is
operated by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.  (Disclosure: I
was interviewed for this article but I'm not mentioned in it.)  It quotes
an anonymous NYPD investigator as saying "It will become another item
to be checked off in a routine investigation... You must do it.  It will
be an omission not to do it".  A divorce lawyer is quoted as saying, a
little hyperbolically I assume, "When he says, 'I was at work, Honey',
now she can check the E-ZPass and prove he was at the Hot Bed Motel in
Long Island".  Although the TBTA initially required subpoenas for access
to the records, the NYPD successfully fought this requirement in court
in a recent kidnapping case.  They also say they'll refuse requests for
access in civil cases, and say they've only gotten one such request.

Stay tuned.

Phil Agre

                        [ Another "data creep" example, of course.

                            -- PRIVACY Forum MODERATOR ]


End of PRIVACY Forum Digest 06.18

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