By Jack E. Dunning
March 23, 2005
The legislation would establish a system for documenting the commercial sale of individual's names and private data. Primary targets would be junk mail companies who reap in excess of $4 billion annually selling names. These proceeds come from approximately 61 million households nationwide shopping by junk mail. Sound evidence that your name and personal information are traded endlessly, day after day, year after year, without one penny going in the pocket of the name-holder. The goal is just how to get to this gold mine.
John Thune, new Republican Senator from South Dakota, was asked recently by ABC TV's George Stephanopoulos how he would come up with $2 trillion for the President's plan to privatize Social Security. He replied: My view would be that you set up some off-budget account and you finance it that way. To which James Carville, maverick Democrat, remarked on CNN: Why didn't we think of this before? It shows you how stupid the Washington elites are. They thought you would actually have to come up with the money.
Almost everyone agrees that something must be done about Social Security. President Bush wants to overhaul the program, creating individual investment accounts, but has shown opposition to raising payroll taxes. The American Association of Retired People (AARP) is against outside investments and some in the workforce have even voiced their willingness to pay higher taxes. My plan could be the answer to those 62.3 million age fifty-five plus, who would realize the maximum benefits.
And this is how we tap the mother lode. Based on today's figure of about $4 billion in annual sales of names by junk mailers and it increases each year let s allocate one-half of that to the name-holder. Fair enough, since without you, nothing happens. Put that in a simple interest-bearing account and let it cook until 2018, the first perceived crisis year. There will be almost $27 billion that can go right into the Social Security fund. By 2042, the next believed crisis period, almost $1 trillion would be available.
Now, that question of legal rights to the money arises. It will probably take a congressional statesman dedicated to consumer civil liberties to write the legislation. Winston Churchill broadly covered the topic once when entertaining Charlie Chaplin at Chartwell, his country home in Kent. He asked Chaplin what his next role would be, to which the famous actor responded, "Jesus Christ." Churchill quickly reacted: "Have you cleared the rights yet?"
The legal profession's Black's Law Dictionary has a listing, legal name, as applying to the individual. The connotation is that there is something officially legitimate about a person's name. Continuing, the reference work says: It is the distinctive characterization in words by which one is known and distinguished from others The conclusion one might reach here is that your name, particularly when attached to a unique address and private data, is sacrosanct.
There has been a movement on for the last few years focusing on who should control all the personal data out there, including coverage by 60 Minutes II and Consumer Reports magazine. Even Proctor & Gamble was quoted in the December 1, 2000, issue of Direct, a junk mail industry publication, as believing the consumer owns his or her name. But Beth Givens, founder of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego, told me that she feels there are too many scam artists that would take advantage of consumers who had ownership of their name and personal information. The correct approach is legal control that could be afforded to each individual through federal legislation.
And there you have it. What is needed is a massive wake-up call from all you junk mail shoppers to recognize your rights attendant to the sale of your name and private data. Write or email your representative in Congress and tell them your thoughts about this concept. As Harry Truman said to delegates from the United Nations in a 1945 speech, "In your hands rests our future."
Jack E. Dunning
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