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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Chapter 12. Epilogue: One Year Later

In the year since Database Nation was published, privacy has become the leading consumer issue in the United States. Leaders in government and business now readily acknowledge that consumers' fear of losing control over their personal information is the most important factor holding back the growth of e-commerce. The question of how personal information will be protected and distributed has become one of the major trade issues between the U.S. and the European Union. And during this past year, I have received hundreds of email messages from individuals whose privacy has been compromised by businesses.

Many of these email messages are from victims of identity theft (described in Chapter 2). Estimates vary, but there were somewhere between 500,000 and 750,000 separate cases of identity theft in 2000. Identity theft has become such a common crime that individual cases no longer warrant newspaper coverage: what garners coverage now are identity theft rings—groups of criminals who steal the names, Social Security numbers, and credit histories of dozens or hundreds of people at the same time. Identity theft rings have been found operating out of the Social Security Administration, the human resources departments of Silicon Valley startups, and even multinational telephone companies. This past April in Detroit, for example, federal authorities shut down a sophisticated identity theft ring that in 18 months had defrauded 1,200 people and stolen more than ...

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