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2004 News Releases

National ACLU Targets CVS in Privacy Campaign; New Report Shows Government Using Businesses for Data

Posted: August 09, 2004|Category: Police Practices Category: Privacy

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As part of a new anti-surveillance campaign which is designed to defend consumers’ personal privacy rights, the ACLU is asking Rhode Island-based CVS and 20 other leading retail, banking and travel businesses across the country to take a “no-spy pledge” to reject government requests to voluntarily turn over information on customers and their transactions.

The request follows today’s release of a National ACLU report, “The Surveillance-Industrial Complex,” which documents how the U.S. security establishment is rapidly increasing its ability to monitor average Americans by hiring or compelling private-sector corporations to provide billions of customer records.

“As this report documents, the public deserves to know just how much sensitive information about their personal lives is being sold or given to the government by the business community,” said RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown. “Few pieces of information are more personal than one’s medical and pharmaceutical records. We have to insist that companies like CVS enact and enforce strong privacy policies. Otherwise, the pressure to violate customer confidentiality will be hard to resist when the call for ‘cooperation’ comes from Washington.” Brown referred to revelations in the past year, documented in the report, about how major airlines voluntarily shared millions of passenger records with federal agencies after 9/11.

Brown emphasized that there was no reason to believe that CVS, or most of the other targeted companies, had turned over private customer information to the government. He noted, however, that requests by government officials for access to personal medical information were hardly far-fetched, especially in the context of a “war on terrorism.” Last year, for example, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a “bioterrorism” law, vigorously opposed by the R.I. ACLU, that requires pharmacies to report “sales of drugs, devices and other products potentially related to the outbreak of disease” when requested by the state health department.

The new report documents how the government is piggy-backing on the increasing availability of private-sector data collection to boost its surveillance capabilities. This ranges from companies, like the airlines, that voluntarily furnish data on their customers’ transactions, to those forced to betray their customers through the Patriot Act, to data aggregators that compile dossiers on individuals which they sell to the FBI, to individuals who are told to report to the authorities anyone matching frightening but vague descriptions of those who don’t “fit in.”

Among the other major companies targeted in the ACLU campaign are Fleet Bank, Walmart, Home Depot and Rite Aid. The ACLU’s web site, www.aclu.org, offers the public the ability to link on to the companies’ feedback web sites and include the text of a letter asking the business to sign onto a “no-spy” pledge, agreeing not to voluntarily turn over sensitive customer information.

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