- October 21 - A California consumer group is waiting for cloudy skies to clear outside Citigroup headquarters to skywrite the first five digits of the company CEO's Social Security number in protest of Citigroup-backed legislation in the US Senate which would gut state privacy laws. FTCR will disclose the first five digits of Prince's social security number to show how everyone's privacy is at risk without better laws. The Associated Press Day Book will be notified as soon as weather conditions permit skywriting.
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) bought Citigroup CEO Charles Prince's Social Security number on the Internet for $30. FTCR also released a scorecard measuring how New York compares to other major cities in protecting privacy and controlling corporate power. New York received a "D," the lowest score in a national comparison. City scorecards are available at http://www.corporateering.org -- the home page for FTCR president Jamie Court's new book Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom And What You Can Do About It (Tarcher/Putnam).
New York, home of the world's most powerful banks, does not protect consumers by requiring corporations to get permission before sharing a consumer's private information. As a result, almost every New Yorker's Social Security number and other private information is for sale.
The federal bill backed by Citgroup -- a version of which already passed the House (HR 2622) -- will nullify California's recently-enacted landmark financial privacy law and pre-empt all future state legislation allowing consumers to say no to the sharing or selling of their private information among Citigroup's 2400 affiliate companies. Citigroup spent $4.6 million so far this year lobbying on Capitol Hill to take Americans' privacy rights and $11.7 million since 2000.
"Bank CEOs like Mr. Prince must realize their own privacy is at risk when their companies recklessly trade our private information like stocks and bonds without regard for Americans' desire for privacy" said Jamie Court, President of FTCR and author of Corporateering. "Since corporate affiliates so widely share and sell individuals' private information, we were able to buy not only Prince's Social Security number on the Internet for $30 but also the social security numbers of John Aschcroft, CIA Director George Tenet and FTC Chairman Timothy Muris. Current federal privacy laws are not good enough."
Under California's new privacy law, financial institutions must ask permission before selling their private information to other companies and cannot share private information among most of their affiliates against a consumer's will. Federal law allows for widespread sharing of information among thousands of corporate affiliates even when a consumer says no -- putting individuals' private information at great risk.
Court noted that the Bush Administration's support of HR 2622's preemption of stronger state privacy laws violates promises the president made during his 2000 campaign, but has yet to deliver. Bush said he wanted to make it a criminal offense to sell a person's social security number without his or her permission. (Associated Press, October 29, 2000, "Q&A: Gore and Bush on Education, Trade and Other Issues) Bush also said: ``I think there ought to be laws that say a company cannot use my information without my permission. We can live in a private world" (ZDNN Q&A with George W. Bush, ZDNet News, Jun. 21, 2000). Similarly, the president said ``I believe privacy is a fundamental right, and that every American should have absolute control over his or her personal information." (Candidates on the issues: Internet Privacy, San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 6, 2001)
Since the 2002 election cycle, big banks contributed $20.6 million dollars to Congressional representatives -- 63 percent to Republicans. Since 2000, President Bush has received $2.1 million from securities and investment firms, $582,250 from commercial banks, $562,292 from insurance companies and another $967,100 from other finance companies.
The reckless exchange of social security numbers and other private information among America's corporations has dramatically increased Americans' risk of identity theft. Identity theft led all complaints to the Federal Trade Commission in 2000, 2001, and 2002 and doubled in 2002. Recently the FTC announced almost 10 million Americans are victimized by identity theft each year.
Later this week the Senate will vote on a bill allowing no stronger state privacy law than currently exist federally. California Senators Feinstein and Boxer will propose a floor amendment to legislation reauthorizing the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) that preserves more generous state privacy protections.
The group's scorecard for New York, called a "corporateering quotient," is based on a term coined by Court in his new book, Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom And What You Can Do About It (Tarcher/Putnam), which Publisher's Weekly says is "keeping the muckraking tradition alive." "Corporateering" describes when large corporations prioritize their commerial gain over the individual's and society's.
The quotient gives points for and against the region in 9 areas. For example, New York received points for controlling corporate advertising on school campuses. But it lost points because of lack of state financial privacy protections for consumers and rampant corporate branding of public spaces. The New York Corporateering Quotient can be viewed on the web at: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/corporate/pr/NewYork_Quotie nt.pdf
-- AP Day Book Will Be Notified As Soon As Weather Conditions Permit Skywriting
FTCR is a non-profit and non-partisan consumer advocacy organization. Visit us on the Web at http://www.consumerwatchdog.org or http://www.corporateering.org