As you expect, the pretext is "child pornography," an always convenient bogeyman: "The current proposal appears to originate with the Justice Department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, which enforces federal child pornography laws. But once mandated by law, the logs likely would be mined during terrorism, copyright infringement and even routine criminal investigations" (McCullagh, 16 Jun. 2005). With such a law in the hands of the federal government, the POTUS who wants to pull a Watergate wouldn't need to have anyone break into any building!
Besides, the more data are retained, the more likely they will be stolen.
Collectively, nearly 50 million accounts have been exposed to the possibility of identity fraud since the beginning of the year, a significant increase from last year.If anything, the government ought to be prohibiting unnecessary data retention, since it is not possible to establish computer security that no hacker can breach.
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A boom in data collection has created a marketplace of valuable information stored on computers in thousands of places, many with weak security. (Jonathan Krim, "Ubiquitous Technology, Bad Practices Drive Up Data Theft," Washington Post, 22 Jun. 2005, p. D1)
Common sense, however, doesn't come easily to the current administration. In "the year of the data breach" (Krim, 22 Jun. 2005), it embarked upon creating a massive new database:
The Defense Department began working yesterday with a private marketing firm to create a database of high school students ages 16 to 18 and all college students to help the military identify potential recruits in a time of dwindling enlistment in some branches.The daftly-named BeNOW, Inc. is a private company that has only 50 employees and the income of just $9 million. Its history is short, too. In 2003, it had only ten clients, "four of which were added in 2002" (Eric Schmitt/Forrester Research, "Database Marketing Vender Profile: BeNOW," 18 Apr. 2003). Its specialty in 2003 was unsophisticated services for "the catalog and retail markets":
The program is provoking a furor among privacy advocates. The new database will include personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.
The data will be managed by BeNow Inc. of Wakefield, Mass., one of many marketing firms that use computers to analyze large amounts of data to target potential customers based on their personal profiles and habits.
"The purpose of the system . . . is to provide a single central facility within the Department of Defense to compile, process and distribute files of individuals who meet age and minimum school requirements for military service," according to the official notice of the program.
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[Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen] Krenke said she did not know how much the contract with BeNow was worth, or whether it was bid competitively.
Our evaluation also reveals several concerns about BeNOW that prospective buyers should take into consideration, including its:Such gaps and limits, as well as the apparent lack of a chief privacy or security officer, may not deter catalog merchants from hiring BeNOW, but they sure suggest that BeNOW may not be a company to which the federal government should entrust sensitive personal data of the youth of America.(Schmitt/Forrester Research, 18 Apr. 2003)
- Analytical skills gap. Unlike most of its competitors, BeNOW has not built out a deep analytical organization. . . .
- Limited resources. BeNOW's small employee base, along with the recent growth in its client roster, should give potential buyers pause. Before signing on, prospective buyers should interview account team candidates including ongoing service staff -- not just the database build specialists. Inquire about these employees' other commitments, and negotiate the mechanics of the relationship upfront.
My bet is that BeNOW will follow in the footsteps of ChoicePoint, LexisNexis, CardSystems, and other databases hacked to notoriety.