Schumer Reveals: Egregious Loophole Makes Millions Of New Yorkers Soc. Sec. Numbers Accessible At Touch Of Computer Button; Potential For Identity Theft Is Enormous
Anyone Who Pays Westlaw Gets Access to Millions of New Yorkers Soc. Sec. Numbers Schumer Asks Company to Disable SS Number Searches, Implement Stricter Checks on Access by Clients Employees, Interns
Millions of New Yorkers are at risk for identity theft, Senator Charles E. Schumer revealed today as he exposed a giant flaw in an information database that allows almost anybody's personal information to get into the wrong hands. Schumer sent a letter to the head of Westlaw, a data search company based in Minnesota, asking that an egregious loophole in their Internetbased PeopleFind be disabled for use by its clients. The program allows subscribers to log in, type in the name of the person they are looking for, and with the click of a few buttons access their social security number and other personal information.
Schumer's letter is a follow up to his phone conversation with the President of Westlaw, Peter Warwick, earlier this month in which the Senator asked exactly who may have access to their PeopleFind database and strongly recommended Westlaw disable it until better protections were in place to prevent misuse by clients.
Schumer said, This egregious loophole makes millions of New Yorkers Social Security numbers available at the touch of a computer button. Average Americans are just as vulnerable to identity theft as Governor Pataki and Paris Hilton. The employees and interns of corporations and the Federal court system do not need unfettered access to millions of Social Security numbers and other private information.
Westlaws PeopleFind service might as well be the first chapter of Identity Theft for Dummies. Criminals no longer need forage through dumpsters for discarded bills they just need to send Westlaw a check and they're in the identity theft business, Schumer said in his letter to Warwick. Any Westlaw user who pays for your PeopleFind database can obtain the social security number of virtually any person in the United States.
This loophole was brought to Schumer's attention by a constituent who works for the federal courts who then contacted a Schumer staffer who confirmed that the Senate office also has access to this feature, though the Senate feature was disabled late last night. Private companies (and their employees/interns) subscribe to this service and have unfettered access to social security numbers.
According to the FTC, in 2003, 15,281 New Yorkers lodged identity theft complaints with 8,863 in New York City alone. In 2004, 17,680 New Yorkers lodged identity theft complains with 9,951 in New York City.
When I called Westlaw, I learned that this service is available to anyone who is willing to pay for it, regardless of their need for it and without cursory background checks. Westlaw relies on an onyourhonor affirmation by users that they will not use the information they find illegally.
I plan to introduce legislation in the very near future to plug these egregious loopholes allowing millions of Social Security numbers to be on the Internet.
Schumer concluded, Rather than receiving assurances that the problem would be remedied, my office received a letter from Westlaws legal representation that failed to address the central issue that there are no real standards for keeping sensitive personal data out of the wrong hands.
Attached is the letter to Westlaw President, Peter Warwick.
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