Personal Data and Privacy Rights

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on October 4, 2002

An Online Journalism Review article posted on October 3, focuses on the intensifying debate over the availability of personal data on the Web, and specifically on the evolution of California case law on privacy rights.
It is important to note that personal data finds its way to the Web through a number of database streams, some of which are within our control, and others are currently out of our hands. Individuals frequently divulge a range of identifying information when engaged in such activities as genealogy research on the Web, attempting to re-establish contact with old friends through high school and college alumni sites, registering for free and fee-based access to online versions of newspapers and periodicals, and conducting e-commerce transactions. Personal data is also routinely mined fromt the Web, aggregated, used for marketing purposes, and sold to third parties. Some telemarketers have jumped into the act and are soliciting and obtaining personal data under false pretenses which they then sell to online services. As an example, see this October 3, 2002 Missouri Attorney General press release on a law suit against AXS Marketing, a Canadian telemarketing company that violated the states consumer protection laws.
State, local and federal government agencies collect and process a huge volume of vital record information, much of which is still disseminated only in print form but can be ordered and paid for via Web sites. Following on the issue of government dissemination of data is the controversy over public access to court records. Watch for continued legislative activity on the state and local level in response to growing consumer demands for controls on the dissemination of such data.

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