Westlaw agrees to restrict access to Social Security numbers

R.A. Hettinga rah at shipwright.com
Fri Mar 18 11:14:31 EST 2005


The San Jose Mercury News

Posted on Thu, Mar. 17, 2005

Westlaw agrees to restrict access to Social Security numbers

WASHINGTON (AP) - A legal research company said Thursday it will greatly
restrict customer access to Social Security numbers in response to
complaints from Congress that its previous policy of limited sales of the
numbers invited identity theft.

Westlaw, a Minnesota-based legal research firm, said private companies and
many government offices no longer will be able to obtain such information
from the company.

``The events of the past months illustrate the importance of tougher
controls, and we're pleased to be a part of a broader and ongoing effort
that supports both individual privacy and homeland security concerns,''
said Peter Warwick, CEO of Thomson West, which operates the online Westlaw

The company's practices came under fire from lawmakers after another data
company, ChoicePoint, announced some 145,000 customers had been exposed to
identity theft.

Westlaw, which is owned by The Thomson Corp., has not suffered a similar
breach, but Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called on the company to tighten
restrictions on the information available to customers in the wake of the
ChoicePoint problem.

Under the new policy, about 85 percent of Westlaw customers who previously
had access to the Social Security number search will no longer have such

All private companies, and many government offices, including the U.S.
Senate, will no longer have access to Social Security numbers through
Westlaw. Access will remain for some law enforcement agencies.

Congress has stepped up pressure on data companies that collect huge
amounts of private information.

On Tuesday, ChoicePoint Inc. CEO Derek Smith appeared before a House Energy
and Commerce Committee panel to publicly apologize to customers whose
information may have been obtained surreptitiously.

Appearing beside him was LexisNexis CEO Kurt Sanford, whose company also
had a breach involving information on about 32,000 people. LexisNexis is
owned by Reed Elsevier PLC.

The two executives said they would support some proposals to toughen laws
governing consumer privacy.

They did not support a more sweeping prohibition on the sale of Social
Security numbers, arguing such sales may be necessary for law enforcement
or debt collection.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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