What Can You Do?
Controlling Personal Information

Methods for controlling access to your personal information range from technical legal remedies to simple common sense. This section describes some general methods that other people have used effectively to keep their personal information personal.

General Hints

  • Assume that information you give is not secure, and use cryptography like PGP to protect privacy and integrity of personal information.

  • Withhold personal information when appropriate.

  • Use some of our strategies and protect yourself by giving innocuous but inaccurate information. (Some of these are even fun.)
  • Get periodic updates of your personal data, like a copy of your credit report.

  • Regain control of your personal information.
    • Challenge any inaccuracies in your credit report.
    • Ask to be put on a "do not call" list, as the TCPA requires companies to maintain.
    • Ask to have your social security number changed if it has been misused or confused with someone else's.

  • Find out more information about privacy resources.

Withholding Personal Information

Social Security Numbers

  • Private Employers
    If the government requires your social security number (for example, it is required for tax records), then your employer must provide a Privacy Act notice. Disclose your social security number only after you have been given an offer, rather than during the interview, when it is unnecessary and can be used to find information about you that you might not want divulged.

  • On a Deed of Trust
    The National Mortgage Association reportedly requires your social security number. However, you may have it left off the deed of trust, since it will be on other forms that are not public records.

  • Medical providers
    Your social security number is not required on your medical records, although many places will use it as a key. It may be required if your employer uses it to identify a group plan.

  • Driver's License applications
    You may ask for another number if your state DMV uses social security numbers as identifiers. There must be a Privacy Act statement on the form.
     
Medical Records

Be sure to give only as much information as is required to make a diagnosis. Remember the story of the woman whose records were used for something else, and information aout a thirty-year-old adoption was discovered.

More information is available from other sources


Strategies for Keeping Information Personal


Best "Incorrect" (but Innocuous) Information to Use

This comes in very handy when you know that you are not required to divulge the information, but someone else insists that you must, and you are tired of arguing. It also works well for filling out those business reply cards.


  • Social Security Number: 078-05-1120.
This was printed on "sample" cards which were put in wallets during the 1940's and 1950's. Most clerks probably won't recognize it as fake, but it won't interfere with other social security numbers and the IRS and the SSA (Social Security Administration) recognize it as a fake. Advertisements use numbers in the range 987-65-4320 through 4329. [Information from the SSN FAQ]
  • Addresses: Hometown parks, city halls, and police stations are best.

    If the location doesn't matter, try this:
    3500 S. Wacker, Chicago, IL 60616 (Comisky Park).

  • Telephone Numbers: 1+ 202 224 3121.

    This is the congressional switchboard.

Telemarketing Tricks

  • Lease your time and telephone.
    Bob Arkow, a California resident, has a number of methods to prevent unwanted calls. First, when ordering products or services, he sends an agreement with his check. The agreement forbids the company to call him or to give out his unlisted number. By endorsing the check, the company agrees with his terms. Those terms include a statement that his time and telephone are available on a "for hire" basis of $500 per call. (This is an amount stipulated by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act [TCPA]).
  • Request a copy of the do-not call policy.
    To deal with unwanted telephone solication, he recommends not just hanging up, but asking that a copy of the company's do-not-call policy (which they must have by law) be faxed to him. This is much more expensive for the company.
    Information from Privacy Journal.

More about Privacy and Personal Information


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