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PRIVACY Forum Digest      Saturday, 8 January 2000      Volume 09 : Issue 04


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

                 The PRIVACY Forum is supported in part by
               the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery)     
                 Committee on Computers and Public Policy,      
                 Cable & Wireless USA, Cisco Systems, Inc., 
                           and Telos Systems.
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             These organizations do not operate or control the     
          PRIVACY Forum in any manner, and their support does not
           imply agreement on their part with nor responsibility   
        for any materials posted on or related to the PRIVACY Forum.

        Important Update Regarding Database
           (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
        Family Privacy vs. Politics: Elian Gonzalez 
           (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)

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The Internet PRIVACY Forum is a moderated digest for the discussion and
analysis of issues relating to the general topic of privacy (both personal
and collective) in the "information age" of the 1990's and beyond.  The
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     Quote for the day:

        "I suppose you think this is very funny, Harold."

               -- Mrs. Chasen (Vivian Pickles)
                  "Harold and Maude" (Paramount; 1971)


Date:    Sat, 8 Jan 2000 09:58 PST
From: (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
Subject: Important Update Regarding Database

Greetings.  In the previous edition of the PRIVACY Forum Digest
(, I discussed the exploitation of
public record data represented by the "" database system
( which reveals name/city/zip/gender information
for what they claim is approaching 150 million U.S. adults.  Please see that
issue of the digest for the details and an analysis of their serious
negative implications.

Since that report, many people have attempted to access the database and
find/delete records within it.  Some important facts have come to light:

1) As I suspected, parts of the forms have been undergoing change,
   with partial zip codes now being (optionally) accepted again
   (as opposed to complete zip codes).  This obviously allows for
   very broad targeted searches.

2) The system appears to be exceptionally overloaded.  Searches can take
   extremely long times to return, if they return at all.  A message is
   currently up indicating that they are "purchasing new hardware" to try
   deal with these problems.  Hmmm.

3) Very Important--it appears that their load may have resulted in other
   problems and artifacts relating to the database, judging from my own
   attempts and e-mail I've received.  In particular:

     a) Attempts to delete records are reportedly not being
        reliably processed at least part of the time.  I've 
        received concerned reports from individuals stating that
        even after numerous attempts their records are still

     b) Some searches that are known from earlier search runs to have
        returned very large numbers of results (e.g. common names) have been
        reported to return no results on subsequent searches shortly
        thereafter.  This strongly suggests that it is not safe to assume
        that you do not have records in the database based solely on the
        search results you see when their database is so overloaded.  You
        will definitely want to check back at intervals to verify not only
        that you don't actually have current records that simply 
        didn't appear during this period, but that you also don't have new 
        records added later on.

If you've already informed anyone about this database, please be
sure to pass along this additional info.  Thanks very much.

Lauren Weinstein
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum -
Co-Founder, PFIR: People For Internet Responsibility -
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy


Date:    Sat, 8 Jan 2000 10:42 PST
From: (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
Subject: Family Privacy vs. Politics: Elian Gonzalez 

Greetings.  While the majority of items that come up in the PRIVACY Forum
tend to relate to technological privacy issues, there are of course many
other situations in which privacy concerns can affect individuals and

One vivid example now playing itself out in the glare of the world media
spotlight is the plight of Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy who has
become a political pawn of both the Cuban government and various private and
political interests here in the United States.  You already no doubt know
the details of the story.  

Few matters should be more private and less political than an innocent child
and a family disrupted by tragedy.  So I must admit to being both appalled
and disgusted to see the manner in which these private matters have been
exploited by all concerned, except by the boy and his father.

On the Cuban side, the mass demonstrations, which obviously have been
organized with the active participation of the government, have only
inflamed the existing hatreds of anti-Castro groups here in this country.
And in the U.S., the immediate adoption of Elian as the "mascot" for
anti-Castro groups, seemingly relegating the father to the role of an
insignificant bystander, have similarly inflamed passions on the Cuban
side.  However, the strong feelings expressed by all of the parties do mostly
appear to be genuine, regardless of such manipulative activities.

The introduction of explicit political elements by conservative
members of the U.S. Congress, through calls for "private" legislation to
make Elian a U.S. citizen, and the issuing of a Congressional subpoena to
delay implementation of the INS order that would return him to his father,
have further muddied the situation.

In nearly any other circumstance the boy would probably already have been
returned to his father.  Nobody is claiming that the father is unfit, or too
poor to care for him, or that father and son didn't have a loving and active
joint custody family relationship.  It is certainly true that Elian's
possibilities for a financially fruitful and free life are massively greater
here in the United States than in Cuba.  But to apply these sorts of
considerations in this case would seem to be saying that we should forcibly
take children away from loving and capable parents in poor neighborhoods or
countries with whom who don't agree, and move them in with rich relatives in
other neighborhoods or countries.  Is this really a scenario we want to

Perhaps the real enemy in all of this is the political climate on both sides,
which has allowed the warped relationship between Cuba and the U.S. to
continue largely frozen for these many decades, while so much of the world
has changed around us.  Politics and family privacy do not mix, and now
we've managed to catch an innocent child and his father in the trap we've
all created.  We now have their faces to stare at on our televisions as
tangible evidence of our folly.  

Lauren Weinstein
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum -
Co-Founder, PFIR: People For Internet Responsibility -
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy


End of PRIVACY Forum Digest 09.04

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