Dear Rep. Moran:

 

Thank you for replying to my two recent letters regarding trademark dilution and possible FEC regulation of the Internet.

 

There has been a lot of media coverage lately about security lapses at large companies (such as ChoicePoint) that collect data on consumers and sell this information to businesses. Common sense suggests that Congress will want to increase the protection of consumers to correct incorrect information and to make sure that customers requesting such information are verified as having lawful purposes in obtaining it. Such legislation would follow similar, well-known legislation already in place, like the FCRA and FDCPA.

 

However, small companies (and possibly even individuals) also run businesses that offer personal information on ordinary individuals and even inexpensive “background checks.” NBC4 “digital edge” discussed one of these companies, zabasearch.com, in its broadcast on May 6, 2005.  An individual or even an enemy with hostile intentions might locate a mark, even using the GPS satellite links showing residential neighborhoods. An individual who published unpopular political views on the World Wide Web could be “google hacked” and then located by one of these sites. Of course, the easy availability of such information may facilitate identity theft. Employers could also use such techniques to “spy” on off-job activities of associates. I have not known this to be a common practice yet, but any public policy maker or legislator can envision the potential problems.

 

Congress may be considering what to do about this, although I don’t see much that is specific yet when I search the Web. One concern that I have is that any regulation, if carelessly written, could ensnare sites like mine that provide bibliographic references to the work of many people (and may discuss people involved in major current events) but do not provide personal location or identification information. For example, an extreme proposal could require individual domain owners to become bonded, which might put controversial authors or bloggers without a lot of capital out of business. There would obviously be constitutional First Amendment issues here, and our legal system has not yet addressed all of the quandaries posed by the rapid advances of technology. For example, “expressive association” might wind up as having more First Amendment protection that does “self-promotion” or “commercial speech,” and the Supreme Court has not yet given conclusive guidance on all of these points.

 

One particular example contains my sites (doaskdotell.com and hppub.com).  I have a tremendous volume of bibliographic references to people. I do not have identifying or location information about people (I don’t even process credit cards and run the security risk of inviting hackers). However, another parked domain (with a similar name to one of mine except for TLD) offers links to private investigative services similar to those that I discuss here.

 

Please provide me an update on your thoughts on this problem and where Congress is going with this.

John W Boushka

BUSINESS ADDRESS

4201 Wilson Blvd #110-688

Arlington VA 22203-1859

571-334-6107

JBoushka@aol.com

 

May 7, 2005

 

Here is Rep. Moran’s reply:

 

Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts about selling personal information over the Internet. I share your concerns with personal privacy, and I appreciate your bringing this to my attention.

 

As you know, some Internet businesses, such as ZabaSearch.com, are selling information about people for a minimal fee. This information includes current and past addresses, telephone numbers, police and court records, subscriptions, and other public documents. These businesses are not warehouses of information, but rather search engines that consolidate information from existing public records and sources for a fee.

 

Like you, I have reservations about these businesses. They operate on the fringe of what may be legally permissible and verge on privacy invasion. I am also concerned that these firms could facilitate domestic violence or stalking where certain information should remain confidential. Without infringing on First Amendment rights to assemble and sell what is already public information. Congress should look into ways for people to opt out of such listings and investigate whether certain types of data should not be disclosed. I will continue to look into this issue.

 

Privacy issues will continue to be a topic of great concern and public debate. Please feel free to visit my website at http://www.moran.house.gov which contains information on other topics of interest or to sign up for the Moran E-Digest to receive periodic email updates and issue alerts. Thank you again for contacting me.  

 

Here is a link for a discussion of the proposed National Identify Theft Notification Act

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