Stupid Zealot Watch: Where's the Outrage?
By Ken Magill
For years I have contended that the online privacy movement isn’t about protecting anyone from anything. It’s an anti-business—hence anti-consumer—movement through and through.
In a world where privacy zealots’ wishes were fulfilled, we would see less innovation, fewer products and services, a bunch of small businesses crushed and thousands of people put out of work.
But privacy advocates are all about making sure people's potentially embarrassing or harmful personal information doesn’t get into the wrong hands, right?
Consider this: Under the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as “Obamacare,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is developing a so-called “data hub” that has been referred to as “the largest consolidation of personal data in the history of the republic.”
Employees of seven agencies will have access to this data: the Social Security Administration, the IRS, the Department of Homeland Security, the Veterans Administration, Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Defense and —for some no-doubt weird reason—the Peace Corps.
Just how much Information will this database include?
According to a regulatory filing, the database will include Obamacare applicants’ first names, last names, middle initials, mailing addresses or permanent residential addresses, dates of birth, Social Security Numbers, taxpayer statuses, genders, ethnicities, email addresses, telephone numbers, incarceration statuses; Indian statuses; memberships in certain types of recognized religious sects or health-care-sharing ministries; employer information; veteran statuses; health information, such as pregnancy statuses, blindness, and disability statuses; household incomes, including tax return information from the IRS, income information from the Social Security Administration, and financial information from other unnamed third party sources.
And what’s it going to be used for?
“The purpose of this system is to collect, create, use and disclose PII [personally identifiable information] on individuals who apply for eligibility determinations for enrollment in a qualified health plan through the Exchange, for insurance affordability programs,\2\ and for certifications of exemption from the individual responsibility requirement and; and as needed to perform the Exchange minimum functions in 45 CFR 155.200; and to maintain records used to support all Health Insurance Exchanges…” the filing said.
The filing also says the federal government can disclose the information contained in the database to agency contractors, consultants, CMS grantees and certain non-profits who need access to it, and state and local government agencies to investigate potential fraud “without the consent of the individual.”
Also according to the regulatory filing cited above, “Records are maintained with identifiers for all transactions for a period of 10 years after they are entered into the system.”
Ten. Friggin’. Years.
The potential for abuse of the information to be contained in the Obamacare data hub is astronomical.
Private data-driven-marketing enterprises have a financial interest in avoiding even creeping people out, much less doing actual harm. Government employees have no such constraints and they possess the power and the tools to do real harm—IRS anyone?
Moreover, if the Obamacare data hub were a commercial endeavor, the law would require that consumers have access to their information and the ability to correct it—not likely in this case.
Surely, the usual voices in the privacy-zealot camp have seen the potential for real harm in a giant, government, medical database complete with tax and financial information, right?
Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, must be seething with righteous indignation.
Well, not really. A search for his name on Google News turns up a bunch of stories about the Worldwide Web Consortium’s recent rejection of an ad-industry proposal, but nothing involving the Obamacare data hub.
How about Pam Dixon, founder of the World Privacy Forum? Steam must be coming out of her ears while a locomotive whistle shrieks, right?
Wrong. A search using her name brought back a story about possible patient-information leaks involving the birth of Kim Kardashian’s baby, and a piece on the Federal Trade Commission’s so-called “Reclaim Your Name” initiative—nothing involving the Obamacare data hub.
How about New York Times ace privacy reporter Natasha Singer? She must be smelling blood.
Turns out she is, but not over some gargantuan, federal-government-run trove of potentially harmful, and personally identifiable health and financial information that will be accessed constantly by thousands of low-level government employees.
She’s writing about a letter Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan sent to about.com, drugs.com, health.com, mayoclinic.com, menshealth.com, mercola.com; WebMd.com, and weightwatchers.com, to inquire about their data-collection, -storage and –sharing practices.
Think about how the three people mentioned above would react if data-giant Acxiom were to launch a project similar to the Obamacare data hub.
It’s kind of sickening.
[Author’s note: This piece is not intended as a criticism of President Obama or his policies. It is solely meant to point out the blatant hypocrisy of privacy zealots.]