Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Going postal over privacy

This is very interesting ....

Worker: Postal Service sold private data on Yahoo! News

By GENE JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer

Mon Jul 30, 11:08 PM ET

A Postal Service employee sued the agency Monday, accusing it of selling the personal information of its workers to credit card and other companies without consent.

Lance McDermott, a mechanic for mail-processing equipment, said in the complaint in U.S. District Court that he has been inundated with credit card, cell phone and life insurance offers in the past two years.

In some instances, it appears the agency provided the companies with eight-digit employee identification numbers, used for sensitive tasks such as accessing health care records, the complaint said.

McDermott said he was deluged with offers from Visa, Sprint Nextel Corp. and other companies.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of other Postal Service workers, the return of any money the agency may have made by violating the federal Privacy Act, and other damages.

An agency spokesman in Seattle said he could not immediately comment.

"His major concern is that he doesn't want to take the risk that his personal information is going to be released to a third party and be subject to identity theft," McDermott's lawyer, Steve Berman, said. "And he doesn't think his employer should be benefiting from his personal information without his permission."

Berman said he does not know how much the companies may have paid the Postal Service for access to its "master file" of employee information. Nearly 800,000 people work for the agency, he said.

McDermott's complaint cited the Postal Service's April 2005 "Guidelines for Privacy" handbook, which included a section on direct marketing to workers: "Growing revenue is a critical strategy for the Postal Service," it said, and for that reason, the agency would allow companies to bid for the right to mail promotional offers to Postal Service workers. The offers arrive "cobranded" with the Postal Service's logo.

While employees could choose not to have their information forwarded to other companies, the policy still violated the Privacy Act by releasing data to companies without explicit permission from the employees, the complaint said.

With few exceptions, the law forbids federal agencies from releasing personal information of employees without consent.

Representatives of Visa and Sprint Nextel did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

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