Monday, March 29, 2004

Article: Outsourced UCSF notes highlight privacy risk / How one offshore worker sent tremor through medical system

The heated debate over outsourcing in the United States has included some serious dicussion of privacy issues related to the practice of sending personal information overseas. The San Francisco Chronicle has published a series of articles on outsourcing, which includes one that focuses on this issue in particular.

SPECIAL REPORT / Looking Offshore / Outsourced UCSF notes highlight privacy risk / How one offshore worker sent tremor through medical system: "American jobs have been moving offshore for years, primarily manufacturing work seeking out lower-paid workers abroad. The outsourcing of people's personal information, though, is a relatively new phenomenon -- opening the door to identity theft, fraud and other criminal activities.

'We've reached the point where American companies ship personal information outside the country and tell customers to check their privacy at the shore,' said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., one of the leading privacy advocates on Capitol Hill.

Lubna Baloch's run-in with UCSF demonstrates that the safety of outsourced information can never be guaranteed -- no matter how stringent the safeguards -- and offers the most glaring example to date of how a disgruntled overseas worker can violate the privacy rights of U.S. citizens. "

Concerns related to the confidentiality of personal information in outsourcing are, in my view, likely to be among the most compelling arguments in this debate. Most other concerns relate to job losses, but this issue is one of the only ones that speaks to the protection of consumers. Legislators in the US should consider the alternative of "nearshore" outsourcing to Canada, which has been a growth industry for the Atlantic Provinces in Canada. (See, for example, Keane's great growth in Nova Scotia and EDS's expansion in Nova Scotia.) Companies can take advantage of much lower costs, highly-skilled employees and enforceable privacy laws that are actually stronger than those in the United States.

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