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DATA MATCHING A POTENTIAL FOR DRILLING A REAL ORWELL

The private sector is well into the use of data matching for marketing, and the government is catching up.

Leaving aside Constitutional issues for a moment, consider the potential for abuse simply on the basis of the old computer acronym maxim - GIGO.

GIGO stands for Garbage In - Garbage Out. In plain English? If the data you enter into the computer is incorrect, the computer can't fix it by itself, all it can do is process the garbage incredibly fast.

Computer matching raises the possibility of creating and exchanging truly enormous outputs of computer data garbage to new heights.

On a more Constitutional level, both in terms of accuracy and privacy, the right of all citizens to be able to, within obvious constraints, inspect, challenge, amend, add to, or delete records held by both public and private data bases should be recognized. This is an even more important consideration in terms of the potential for invasion of privacy posed by unrestricted computer matching.

The government's history of previous record matching affairs leaves a lot to be desired. David Kaplan of the Center for Investigative Reporting:

"A vast amount of information on U.S. citizens is gathered by...federal agencies. While not yet coordinated into a master computer file, the varied branches of bureaucracy do keep track of everything from tax forms and passport applications to records of social security and veterans benefits."

"While the great majority of this information is handled properly, occasionally some of it ends up being used as intelligence. During the height of the nation's domestic spying program in 1972, for example, the IRS maintained for political purposes more than 11,000 files on individuals and groups, and repeatedly used financial audits as a weapon against political opponents of President Nixon."

"Another example comes from the Bureau of the Census, which during World War Two opened its files to help federal agents locate Japanese-Americans. The bureau has since fiercely guarded its records, despite proposals by the Reagan Administration and others to make personal census forms available to the rest of the government."

The Privacy Journal in Washington, D.C., offers a reward to anyone who finds that their own credit-bureau file to be 100% error free. As of last month [May 1985], no one has ever collected.

The IRS, according to Privacy Journal, is unhappy with the results of its attempts to track down tax cheats by comparing "lifestyle" demographic lists. The IRS "is saying privately...the lists are not accurate enough," writes Journal editor Robert Ellis Smith.

Laws relating to computer matching are already being debated. The article titled "Computer Matching: Should It Be Banned" is in the material you received for the conference.

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