Despite strict laws, personal data remains vulnerable to unethical employees, human error, and cyberhackers.
Individuals might treasure their personal data like Social Security and credit-card numbers, but identity thieves can buy them cheap and in bulk online.
Credit-card numbers can now go for as little as 40 cents each. A matching name, Social Security number, address, and date of birth cost just $2.00, according to security experts.
Even as the incidences of identity theft reach record highs, the government and private institutions continue to collect record amounts of personal, private data.
And despite all of the rules, regulations, and software innovations in place to ensure that information doesn't fall into the wrong hands, it does, and regularly.
In just the past month, State Department employees were disciplined for snooping through presidential candidates' passport files, and hospital workers have been charged with selling the personal information of tens of thousands of patients as well as rifling through the patient records of top stars. And in Hollywood a private detective to the stars is accused of bribing police and telephone company officials so he could scour their confidential databases.
Then there's the Internal Revenue Service. A week before tax day, its inspector general warned that the computer systems that contain the private tax returns of every taxpayer in America are vulnerable to disgruntled employees and hackers.
The problem, say security experts, is that the world's ability to collect data has far outstripped its ability to protect it.
"Lots of organizations and institutions, governmental and private both, are really good at collecting data, but don't have the practices and technologies in place to make sure [they're] well housed and secure," says Jim Harper, a security expert at the libertarian CATO Institute in Washington. "That's why people are able to dip into databases they shouldn't dip into."
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