PRIVACY EXPERT JACK DUNNING: AN INTERVIEW WITH GRANT HALL
By Grant Hall
Privacy expert, Jack Dunning founded The Dunning Letter, a privacy newsletter. During this interview, Grant Hall, author of Privacy Crisis: Identity Theft Prevention Plan and Guide to Anonymous Living speaks with Jack on a number of privacy and freedom issues. Enjoy the interview.
1.When did you begin writing your newsletter?
ANS: I launched The Dunning Letter on April 19, 2005, after leaving the junk mail industry (35 years as a data broker), disillusioned over the irresponsible way consumers’ names and personal data were handled.
2.Why do you believe the majority of the population are apathetic about identity theft, the leading fraud crime in the U.S.A.?
ANS: Just look around you. After being bombarded by the media over the dangers of not protecting our private information following the infamous ChoicePoint breach in February of 2005, people continue to give up their sensitive data for a number of ridiculous reasons. Some as simple as receiving a sample of a headache remedy in return for completing a detailed questionnaire on their demographics, lifestyles, and most specifically their ailments and the medications they take. Another sure sign is that most people react to the protection of their private information after it has been breached, except for those who pay for a service to provide this protection which, in many cases, doesn’t.
3. How would you react to a statute mandating everyone carry a national identification card complete with a chip containing all personal and business data?
ANS: With horror! What we don’t need is consumers walking around with all of their sensitive data in their pockets or purses to lose or be scanned by hackers. As you know, Homeland Security has extended the period requiring the issuing of National ID Cards to at least 2014. The only way I would buy into something even similar to this is if federal legislation was passed giving individuals complete control over the use of their names and personal data. In that way they could decide who has access and limit fraudulent use.
4. The constitution is clear about second amendment rights. Explain how you feel about the various laws in place that require citizens’ identification and background checks for automatic rifles and handguns.
ANS: I am pro-gun control, particularly in the registration process for handguns. I cannot imagine why anyone outside of a war zone needs an AK 47, or similar automatic rifle.
5. Do you believe cameras at intersections that photograph drivers and make cases for driving violations are necessary?
ANS: As a person with a tendency to drive faster than allowed, and having received my share of speeding tickets over the years, I still believe the cameras are necessary. In Arizona where I live, and where there is an abundant senior population, speed and intersection cameras have been instrumental in reducing accidents and saving lives.
6. How do you feel about privacy advocates who make their automobiles unidentifiable to everyone through anonymous registration techniques?
ANS: I do feel very strongly about protecting the privacy of individuals, but, until there are better methods to track the crooks, particularly known terrorists and their accomplices, I am afraid I have to side with law-enforcement in being able to locate the bad guys. If an automobile is “invisible,” and is in some way mixed up in a crime, and this is confirmed by law-enforcement, we could end up with a situation that far surpasses the loss of privacy. Don’t get me wrong, I am firm in believing there must be a “just cause” and any surveillance must have proper oversight. And I don’t mean “ according to the Bush Doctrine.”
7. Do you believe it is anyone’s business-government included where you keep your money?
ANS: That’s hard to answer since our family is users of credit cards, bank accounts and online bill paying. What I do believe is that any financial transaction we make should not be sold by data brokers, nor should it be maintained in their records longer than necessary. Financial institutions should also be required by law to encrypt all data at the highest level available until permanently deleting it from their systems.
8. Do you believe registration of firearms is necessary and constitutional?
ANS: As stated earlier, I am pro-gun control, but not sure if the process of registration of firearms is a Constitutional issue. The 2nd Amendment says: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. I would think that “registration” is more an interpretive matter—whether it is considered infringement—for the courts, and apparently so far they feel the process is necessary. Personally, I feel the registration procedure should be more stringent in relation to such matters as mental capacity and the complete checking out of criminal records.
9. An Alternate identification has been used effectively for the purpose of privacy by certain privacy seekers. Please comment on this privacy method.
ANS: If the individual expects to take part in the normal everyday activities of the marketplace, he or she must have an identity that can be tracked back to private information that will allow them to participate. My solution to the problem, which is covered in my answer to question 10, the mission of The Dunning Letter, is to give American consumers control over their names and personal data. Then, they can decide who has access to their sensitive data, and prevent any use that is not acceptable. This could eventually eliminate the threat of identity theft, stop all junk mail, prevent stalkers from locating their prey, and halt the spying on citizens by government and private business.
10. What is the mission of the Dunning Letter?
ANS: The mission of The Dunning Letter is to create a grass-roots movement among American consumers to support federal legislation that provides individuals control over their names and personal data, and be paid when it is sold.
11. What books and articles have influenced your belief system and philosophy on the subject of privacy?
ANS: Actually, none, specifically. The influence in my decision to become a privacy advocate, particularly in relation to identity theft, was the level of incompetence I witnessed in the handling of our private information by members of the junk mail industry, in which I spent 35 years as a data broker. I have spent 10 years researching the subject, and, believe me, I know where the databases are buried. Frankly, there is nothing in writing out there even today that fully explores the depths of the inadequacy of the security of our sensitive data. New and unique approaches to protecting our privacy, such as your book, Privacy Crisis, underscore the fact of how easily the consumer can be duped into giving up private information. Since 2005 I have followed news articles reporting on the identity crisis, and have quoted those in my blog, The Dunning Letter, that seemed most appropriate to my background, but many of these are slanted more toward business, not the consumer.
12. Do you believe law enforcement or federal agencies have a right to search your home, car and person as per the provisions of patriot acts I and II?
ANS: I believe The Patriot Act will eventually be recognized as one of the worst, if not the worst, piece of legislation ever enacted by Congress.
13. Should a person’s money and assets and home address be traceable by government in your opinion?
ANS: Only in the case of a national emergency, and not without the kind of oversight that would prevent the type of spying on innocent citizens carried on by the Bush administration.
14.Do you believe there is a difference in the work ethic and skill level of entry level employees today as compared to ten years ago? Please explain in detail.
ANS: You’ve opened a cornucopia here about which I could write another book. The answer is a decisive YES! Hopefully the younger generation will forgive me for categorizing them—not all but many—in such a negative fashion. In the last 10 or 15 years of running our data broker business, there seemed to evolve a level of incompetence at the “clerk” level of the list business that surpassed comprehension. These are the people who process list orders and are the ones that deal hourly with the disposition of our names and personal data. They are also generally in their 20’s, have little or no experience, and, until the identity crisis hit the fan, seemingly didn’t have a clue about the urgency of protecting the sensitive data they were handling. Storage devices with millions of personal records were sent to the wrong address and never recovered. Others were left on clerk’s desks and out in clear view at computer facilities where anyone could walk off with them. This ineptitude reached such a critical level that my company started making the “Weekly Banana Award” to the dumbest mistakes, indicating that any monkey could have done the job better.
15. Please provide any information about you, your website and business you want readers to know.
ANS: I spent 35 years in the junk mail industry as a data broker and database consultant working with some of the largest mailers in the U.S. I use the word “junk mail” because, until the business begins to employ the tools that will allow it to target rather than shotgun its message—predictive modeling/data mining—it will remain junk mail. However, it was the industry’s lack of security for the public’s names and private information that moved me to do something about this dilemma. The Dunning Letter has been able to attract a respectable readership, considering the limits of the issue’s appeal, but there is still much to be done that will allow us to some day secure consumers’ names and personal data so that they feel safe when using it.
Copyright: James Clark King, LLC, February 1, 2009