Wednesday, February 11, 2004


The EFF newsletter is chock full of interesting items this week. The lead piece is on an antidote to the Patriot Act - now brewing in Congressional committees, the Safe Act. Ashcroft is already threatening to get George to veto it, so now is the time to urge your representatives in Congress to support it fully. EFF has an action center that makes it easy. Their comprehensive analysis of the Patriot Act also offers a concise review of the troublesome provisions.

They also ran a disturbing article on just how much information is stored on the magnetic strip on your driver's license. There's a project called Swipe that is going around staging performance pieces to demonstrate how it works.

Visitors to an art exhibit at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts got more than their martinis when they ordered drinks at a bar inside the gallery's entrance. Instead of pretzels and peanuts, they were handed a receipt containing the personal data found on their license, plus all the information that could be gleaned from commercial data-mining services and voter registration databases like Aristotle. Some patrons also got receipts listing their phone number, income range, marital status, housing value and profession. For added effect, the receipt included a little map showing the location of their residence.

The additional problem is merchants are retaining and tracking the information for marketing purposes, holding files that could easily be demanded by the FBI under the Patriot Act.

I haven't really checked this out myself yet, but Project Swipe has just launched a website with a tool kit where you can decode the barcodes on your ID, calculate the worth of the data and request copies of your personal files from commercial data-mining companies like Acxiom and ChoicePoint. I plan to try it out this weekend.


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