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Are our privacy rights being jeopardized?

• Jun 10, 2019 at 3:00 PM

Our privacy rights are being compromised on a regular basis.

For example, we now know that the FBI has access to about 640 million photographs of passports, driver’s licenses and mugshots that can be searched using facial recognition, according to The Associated Press.

The AP reported that a government watchdog group called Government Accountability Office recently revealed that the FBI maintains the database in order to help federal, state and local law enforcement in their investigations of criminal wrongdoings. However, several civil liberties advocates told The AP that Congress should implement a federal moratorium on facial recognition investigations “until Congress decides what, if any use cases are permissible.”

I can understand the need for such a database, especially after the terrorist attacks on our soil in 2001, and other threats that have been made. We all want to be protected. However, it is just one more way in which our privacy rights are being jeopardized.

Our privacy dilemma goes beyond the FBI. Andrew Burt and Dan Geer wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in which they warned that there have been so many breaches in recent years that our privacy rights are in danger. They believe that organizations and governments need to be regulated in order to protect our privacy rights.

It is no wonder that our privacy rights are so easily compromised. Social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and others use our personal information to their advantages. My Facebook page is full of advertisements personally geared toward me based on some of the purchases I have made, or my friends have made.

We use computer apps that are associated with third parties that garner personal information from us. Almost every day I get bombarded with phone calls and emails from solicitors trying to sell me something. They no doubt got my phone number and email address from purchases that I have made online.

We also can be easily victimized by computer hackers. Recently, a hacker gained access to the American Medical Collection Agency and stole personal information of millions of patients.

Just like many others, I’ve received notifications from hospitals, credit card companies and banks, saying that my personal information “may have been breached.”

We senior citizens are especially vulnerable to unscrupulous con artists. AARP is constantly warning seniors about various computer scams. Most recently, AARP warned grandparents to avoid a scam in which an older Zeeland, Michigan, couple was bilked out of thousands of dollars. According to AARP, the scam involves con artists pretending to be a grandchild or other relative claiming to be in distress and in need of money. The Zeeland couple was convinced to send cash and gift cards to the scammers.

As we troll the internet, make purchases online and use our credit cards, we open ourselves to have our personal information be compromised.

Last year, I was notified by my credit union that a “suspicious” purchase had been made by someone using my card. I checked my records, and sure enough the purchase was not made by me or anyone else in my family. Someone had gained access to my credit card, most likely stealing information from a purchase I had made. Fortunately, I was able to get the charge removed from my account.

I’ve learned to be more careful in dealing with scammers. I no longer pick up cellphone calls with numbers that I don’t recognize. I delete unwanted email messages and I constantly check our credit union banking account daily, looking for any unrecognizable purchases.

We may never be able to live without digital traces, but there are some steps that can help us manage our privacy better.

According to Time magazine, some steps to take to protect your privacy include being choosy about sharing your Social Security number (even the last four numbers), don’t fill out a social media profile, turn on privacy browsing, use strong and unique passwords, pay for things with cash, and keep your network activity private.

I admit that I haven’t been as diligent as I should be in protecting my privacy. I do need to improve how I use social media and make online purchases.

I do hope the FBI doesn’t have my mugshot on file.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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