TOC Hillary Clinton called to account Your Turn

April 15, 2008

Ties to private information profiteers tar Hillary Clinton. According to Mike McIntire and confirming an earlier report he filed a year ago, "InfoUSA, a consumer database company run by a friend, Vinod Gupta, [...] gave $3.3 million in consulting contracts to Mr Clinton beginning in 2003" (*). A week later Leslie Wayne analyses the political impact of "Catalist, which has data on 230 million Americans", the creation of "Mr. Ickes, who was deputy chied of staff in the [Bill] Clinton White House" (**).

Hillary Clinton stands here accused, not convicted. One is never betrayed but by one's friends and Hillary Clinton would not be the first presidential candidate to be linked to some highly controversial behavior by a person he associated with. Past experience shows she can turn her defense into an opportunity to denounce the sin, if not the sinner, all the more forcefully for the benefit of society as a whole. But silence on a subject I have already dared all candidates to cover would be an admission of guilt.

The facts are clear. Hillary Clinton's connections act as personal data aggregators. They collect and resell personal profiles, an activity now embraced by Google and its gang in hot pursuit of online consumers whose every click they track. Neither such business models nor Mrs Clinton's contacts break any law. However, should voters trust a candidate backed by Big Tobacco to tackle healthcare issues? The same with privacy.

Let us not deceive ourselves. The next President of the United States will face other grave challenges and even if he or she addresses consumer data privacy, the issue will not be solved by magic. But this is no reason to downplay the topic. Directly or indirectly, oil influences most US policies today. The time will come when data will replace oil as the most sought after commodity. The next US President will be well advised to ensure America develops the legal framework necessary to let a data-based economy flourish through work and innovation, rather than rape and plunder.

I am no Al Gore and predicting catastrophes is normally a thankless task. But neither shall I shrink from my message.

Once compiled, private profiles have a way to become public. In the last account, filed by Brenda Goodman (***), "the records of 71,000 adults and children enrolled in the Medicaid or PeachCare for Kids programs were inadvertently posted on Feb 12". No kidding here, the data "included names, Social Security numbers, birth dates" and more. This happened in Georgia and not for the first time. It should not be confused with the loss mentioned last week, which concerned "2,500 patients taking part in a federal medical trial". Not to appear biased against public programs, let us hasten to remind the reader of AOL's own history of slightly undertrained employees.

Once public, and for hackers any online compilation is as good as public, data will be exploited by enterprising souls. David Carr regales us with a story on how the Smoking Gun snoops for scoops from court records(****). Noam Cohen explains how to write 200,000 books from publicly available material and turn a profit (*****). Despite what some judges think and some lawmakers wish, public data cannot be made private again.

In the wrong hands private data create risks. Bank accounts are robbed, credit histories ruined, health records corrupted, jobs refused, reputations destroyed. Is it sustainable that consumers bear all the risks and data aggregators reap all the profits? Motoko Rich tells us Harry Potter's creator is suing the publisher of a Potter lore compilation (******). Is it equitable that defending one's data rights be the privilege of the few?

What does Hillary Clinton propose to restore our constitutional rights or is pronaocracy counting on her to tighten its grip on governement?

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) .............. Clintons Made $109 Million in Last 8 Years, by Mike McIntire (New-York Times) - April 5, 2008
  • (**) ........... Clinton Aide's Private Databank Venture Breaks Ground in Politicking, by Leslie Wayne (New-York Times) - April 12, 2008
  • (***) ......... Georgia Patients' Records Exposed on Web for Weeks, by Brenda Goodman (New-York Times) - April 11, 2008
  • (****) ...... Dirty Job, But Someone Has to Do It, by David Carr (New-York Times) - April 14, 2008
  • (*****) .... He Wrote 200,000 Books (but Computers Did Some of the Work), by Noam Cohen (New-York Times) - April 14, 2008
  • (******) .. Rowling To Testify In Trial Over Potter Lexicon, by Motoko Rich (New-York Times) - April 14, 2008
April 2008
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