In a data-mining society, privacy advocates shudder

Thursday, 11 December 2003, 1:20 PM EST

Edward Socorro had a good thing going as a sales manager with Hilton Hotels Corp. But not long after he started, a company hired by Hilton to do background checks on new employees reported that Socorro once spent six months in jail.

In reality, Socorro was no ex-con. He protested that the background check was wrong. But still he was fired. And although he later settled a lawsuit against Hilton, the damage was done.

Socorro learned the hard way about an increasing danger in our ever-more-networked society: the reliance of corporations and governments on commercially accessible databases that mine the paper trails of our lives. It figures to be among vital privacy issues garnering wider attention in 2004.

Databases have become remarkably efficient and inexpensive to query. Many employers, schools and even volunteer organizations now trust them in making decisions about whom to take on and whom to avoid.

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