Tag Archives: George Orwell

Target Stores – An Identity Thief’s Best Friend ?

Is Target Stores, Inc. targeting your sensitive personal data ?  (image from angrywhiteboy.com)

Is Target Corporation targeting your personal data ? Will a data breach make you a victim of identity theft ? (image linked from angrywhiteboy.org)

You might have found this article after asking…

Why did Target scan my drivers license, or

Why did Target swipe my drivers license, or

Is Target collecting personal information from my drivers license, or

What is the Target stores ID policy, and what if I refuse to give them my drivers license,  or

Did a jury award  South Carolina Target shopper Rita Cantrell $3.1 million in a libel case, after she was wrongly accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $100 bill at Target ?

Maybe Eric Arthur Blair was right (you’ll probably know who he was, even if you don’t recognize his name).

We very rarely shop at Target, but happened to find ourselves in a Target store recently.  While our order was being scanned at the register, even before we decided how we would pay, the cashier asked for our drivers license.  When asked why they needed to see our drivers license, they told us that it was because we were buying a package of over-the-counter cold medicine.  Since we are closer to retirement age than we are to the age of majority, we can’t remember the last time a clerk or cashier “proofed” us.  But since we want to do our part to make sure that no minors can get relief from their cold or flu symptoms, we graciously handed the cashier our license.  We quickly regretted complying with their request, when, to our horror, the cashier scanned the barcode on our license with their barcode reader, before we realized what they were doing, and before we had a chance to stop them.  It is worth noting that the last time I checked, this was still America, and there was absolutely no legal requirement for a retailer to scan or swipe your drivers license, or any other form of ID when purchasing medications, alcoholic beverages, etc.  Target appears to have adopted this misguided policy to protect themselves, and to possibly make their job easier (but at your expense).  What’s next ?  Scanning a barcode tattooed on your forehead by the State, or scanning you for the mandatory RFID chip implanted under your skin at birth ?

It seems to us that Target might be capturing at least some the information embedded in the barcode of your drivers license.  If not, then simply having the cashier confirm the date of birth printed on the license would suffice, and scanning the license would serve no purpose.   This makes us wonder what they might be doing with the data.  How long are they retaining the data ?  Do they sell the data, or use it for marketing purposes ?  Will they provide the data to the government, either voluntarily or in response to a subpoena or a National Security Letter ?

As (now very wealthy) South Carolina Target shopper Rita Cantrell can attest, Target can’t distinguish real currency from counterfeit.  Likewise,  we have little confidence that their employees, POS scanners or computer systems would be able to tell a fake drivers license barcode from the real thing.

Are you wondering what information Target (and other retailers) can capture from your drivers license barcode, in this post-9/11, “Homeland Security” driven world ?  The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (aamva.org) publishes the standards that the individual states follow when designing their drivers licenses.  This AAMVA document (in .PDF format) lists 22 mandatory and 23 optional data elements that are encoded into the PDF417 barcode that is used on U.S. drivers licenses.  Did you know that items such as a driver’s race/ethnic group and social security number can be embedded in the barcode ?   The individual states are free to add additional data elements that are not included in the AAMVA standard.

Sample License

We suspect that Target would be happy to sell cold medicine to this fellow, as long as he allows them to scan his drivers license.

Even if Target Stores does not have any ulterior motives, the fact that they are able to capture any or all of the data embedded in your drivers license barcode exposes their customers to the threat of identity theft.  The fact that their name is Target doesn’t help the situation either, if you catch our drift.  I mean, just look at their stores… they put a big red bulls eye right on the front of every store !  If that isn’t taunting all the hackers out there, I don’t know what is.   Maybe we would be less concerned if their name was “Fortress” or something along those lines, and their logo was a bank vault, rather than a bulls eye.  Even their cute mascot, Bullseye, looks like he would rather lick you to death than defend the company’s customer data.  Retailers, credit card companies, banks and other businesses are constantly making headlines because their networks are hacked into, their data stolen, and their customers or employees personal and financial information  compromised.  Sometimes it’s a hacker breaking into a computer network.  Sometimes, it’s a rogue employee inside a company or at a vendor that has access to a company’s systems.  Sometimes, it’s a laptop computer containing sensitive information that is lost or stolen.  Sometimes, backup tapes are lost in transit to an off-site storage location.  There are many ways that customer data can be put at risk of theft.

Now we’re wondering if we will pick up the newspaper one day, and see the headline “Target Stores Targeted By Hackers,  Personal Info From 50 Million Customers Stolen”.  Think it can’t happen ?  Think Again.  It has happened to other large retailers, banks and credit card companies.

How can consumers protect themselves ?  Well, it’s nearly impossible in the age of  The Internet and when “plastic” has largely supplanted the use of cash.  But nothing says that you have to shop at a retailer that unnecessarily places your personal information at risk, even if its only a potential risk.   We doubt that we will be shopping at Target stores again, but if we do, and we are asked for our drivers license in the future, we will refuse and walk out.  If collecting our personal data is more important to Target than keeping us as a customer, we will gladly take our business elsewhere, and patronize a business that does not unnecessarily expose us to the threat of identity theft.  Speaking of Target, we think that letting retailers scan and capture the data stored in your drivers license barcode is a lot like placing a bullseye on your back.

We are normally happy to accomodate a  merchant’s request to provide suitable ID, especially when the transaction involves payment by check or credit card, or we are returning an item, but Target’s policy is unacceptable, and we believe, simply wrong.  And we’re not the only one who feels this way.  This article at informationweek.com echoes our concerns about Target’s policy.  From a purely practical standpoint, we suspect that draconian policies such as the one put in place by Target will backfire, with (even more) people simply deciding to steal the medication.  OTC pharmacy items are already the most frequently shoplifted items (see this list of the 50 most frequently shoplifted items).   And isn’t it just a bit ludicrous (not to mention, rude) to ask a senior citizen buying cold medicine to prove they’re 18 years old ?

As far as we know,  Target customers concerned about identity theft can still do their shopping at Walmart without having to show them your drivers license when buying cold medications.  If you are very obviously over the age of 18, and asked for your drivers license at a Target store, we suggest that you decline.   If they persist, simply tell them that under the circumstances, you have changed your mind and don’t wish to purchase anything.  It won’t take Target very long to realize that their policy is costing them business, and that they need to change it.  They might not enjoy having to put all your stuff back on the shelves after you walk out without buying it, but at least your personal data will be safe.

– Routing By Rumor

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You Have The Right To Remain Silent

…But it might not do you any good.

Forget about rounding up the usual suspects. Now, every one of us are suspects.

This story is about what you get when you cross George Orwell’s 1948 novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1984), with Steven Spielberg’s 2002 movie, “Minority Report“. This, however, is not about science fiction. What I’m going to discuss is happening today, in the United States. It’s scarier than any movie, and it affects every American.

In “Nineteen Eighty-Four“, Big Brother was watching you. It was a totalitarian society, with the “Thought Police” and the “Ministry of Truth”. There was the inescapable network of telescreens. Resistance was futile. “Thoughtcrime” was punishable by death.

In “Minority Report“, which was a look at law enforcement in the year 2054, a computer decided who the suspects were. Since it was incapable of making mistakes, it was a foregone conclusion that the suspects would be found guilty. The Police “Pre-Crime Division” would not arrest you after you committed a crime. They would arrest you before you committed a crime. Not willing to go quietly? No problem. They’ll just “halo” you. If you have any doubt, just ask John Anderton (aka Tom Cruise).

Fast forward (or rewind) to the year 2008. I just read a newspaper article (here’s another article) about a relatively new tool that police departments around the United States are using (also see article from Wired Magazine). It is called the”Mobile Plate Hunter 900“. The MPH-900 can be used in a fixed location, or mounted in a police vehicle. The system records the license plates of vehicles that pass, or are passed by the police vehicle containing it’s set of cameras. The system identifies the vehicle tag, and does a lookup of the vehicle tags against data in FBI, state and local databases. It will alert the police to something as innocuous as an expired vehicle registration, to more serious things like stolen vehicles and vehicles associated with wanted persons.

mph-900.jpg
The “Mobile Plate Hunter 900”

In my opinion, what we have here, plain and simple, is a high-tech fishing expedition. Not that this tactic is anything new, though. I suspect that ever since police departments started installing data terminals in police cars in the last few years, many police officers with nothing better to do have “run” tags through the system with no cause for suspicion, but rather just to see if they could catch some fish. The “Mobile Plate Hunter 900” simply automates the process, allowing as many as ten thousand tags to be checked during an officer’s shift. Of course, if you’re not a criminal, you have nothing to fear. Or do you?

Perhaps the most troubling part of what I’ve read (see newspaper article), is that the police are building historical databases from the data gathered by this system. They are mining that data to identify suspects to crimes that might have not even been committed at the time the system recorded the vehicle tag! Talk about Pre-Crime!

According to Remington ELSAG, the manufacturer of the MPH-900…

This system reads plates from a stationary location or at highway speeds and cross references them against an onboard hotlist. The system alarms within a second of identifying a plate on the hotlist and can process hundreds of plates per minute. An onboard image and GPS coordinates of every plate scanned are stored and can be referenced later.

Here’s an excerpt from the newspaper article I referenced earlier…

The plate hunter had success in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where a State Police car using the cameras in January of last year identified a tag linked to a vehicle owned by a man who committed a quadruple homicide.

Once Mark Serrano emerged as a suspect, authorities were able to search the system and determined his vehicle was near the scene on the morning of the murders, said Sgt. Ira Promisel of the New York State Police. A jury convicted Serrano of first-degree murder last year, based in part on information the cameras gathered.

If that isn’t straight from the Pre-Crime Division in Minority Report, my name isn’t RoutingByRumor. What does the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have to say about something like this? I don’t know. But here’s what the New York Civil Liberties Union said…

…such efficiency comes at the expense of every motorist’s civil right to avoid police surveillance unless a law has been violated, officials with the New York Civil Liberties Union argue.

“Police really should be in the business of investigating crimes, not tracking law-abiding citizens,” said Barrie Gewanter, executive director of the Central New York Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“When we are driving and we are always having our licenses plates examined, then everybody on the road is being treated as a suspect,” she said.

In 2008, we may not have George Orwell’s telescreens everywhere, but we do have video iPods, camera phones, and surveillance cameras everywhere. I find it amazing how many crimes are recorded on video these days, whether by law enforcement, businesses or private citizens. The police may not have the Halo yet, but they do have the Taser. Are you scared yet?

Don’t Tase Me, Bro

taser.jpg

I think the closest thing the police have to Minority Report’s “Halo” is the Taser. The police use of the Taser received wide coverage in September 2007, after Andrew Meyer, a 21 year old University of Florida student uttered the phrase heard around the world, “Don’t Tase Me, Bro”, and was promptly tasered by police (see this youtube video). His crime? Attempting to ask a question at a UF town hall meeting featuring (U.S.) Senator John Kerry (see Kerry’s bio), and as some have accused him, being obnoxious. Unfortunately, I searched the Florida criminal statutes hoping to find the specific statute that covers obnoxious college students, but I couldn’t find one. I find it quite disturbing then, that the University of Florida Police were able to use potentially lethal force against Mr. Meyer, since his crime does not appear to warrant the death penalty.

I have watched a couple of videos of the UF tasing event, and read some of the police reports on the Meyer incident that were posted to the Web. Mr. Meyer is not some thug or terrorist. He graduated from Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Florida, where he was a member of the National Honor Society. He is (or was) a journalism major, and on the staff of the UF student newspaper. But I also think he was a self-appointed agent provocateur, who appears to have been out of order when he commandeered a microphone to ask Senator Kerry a couple of loaded questions, after the Q&A session was closed. Perhaps Mr. Meyer was seeking his 15 minutes of fame. Perhaps he just wanted to embarrass Senator Kerry. Perhaps he has some mental health issues. I don’t really know what his motivation was.

What I am quite certain of is that there was absolutely no reason for the Goon Squad to treat Mr. Meyer to an electroshock therapy session, or the audience to a horror show. The police report states that Mr. Meyer was “arrested and transported to AC/DC”, which it later indicates is the “Alachua County Detention Center”. Then again, perhaps “AC/DC” refers to the electrical waveform of the electroshock torture they administered.

If you watch this video of the arrest from The Gainesville Sun, it is clear that there were a half-dozen goons piled on top of Mr. Meyer. Yes, he was yelling. Yes, he probably should have just gone limp and let the goons drag him away. But he clearly was not going anywhere, and was not a threat to the members of the audience or the police officers.

My opinion is that he was tasered to punish him, and possibly just so the goons could get their jollies and assert their authority. Police do not have the latitude to determine guilt or decide on a punishment. It was an unnecessary use of force and an abuse of police power. But I think it was also exactly what Mr. Meyer wanted. His intention was to create a scene. The more controversial, the better. The messier, the better. The more publicity it generated, the better. He has certainly gotten his 15 minutes, and then some. He has appeared on NBC’s Today show.

RoutingByRumor awards Andrew William Meyer it’s 2007 “Most Memorable Quote Of The Year” award, for his contribution of “Don’t Tase Me, Bro!” to the American lexicon, and for unwittingly bringing the Taser issue to the forefront. The incident has caused the University of Florida to reconsider whether to arm it’s police department with Tasers. Sometimes, good things result from bad situations.

In some instances, the Taser has become a weapon of torture, used to inflict pain, punish, and in some cases, unintentially kill suspects. More than 300 individuals have died as a result of being tasered. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has said that Taser use “constituted a form of torture” (see this article). Amnesty International USA has called for a moratorium on the use of Tasers by police, saying “The penalty for resisting arrest should not be death” (see this article). Read Amnesty’s Taser abuse article here.

Because it is viewed as a less-lethal weapon, police are much more likely to use it, as opposed to a firearm. But because of it’s potential for abuse, including being used to torture, and the potential to cause death, the Taser is much more dangerous than Minority Report’s “Halo”. Police feel free to use the Taser in situations where they would never consider shooting an individual. Watch this youtube video (viewer discretion advised) of a Utah Highway Patrol officer tasering 28 year-old Jared Massey, who was suspected of nothing more than speeding. His most serious crime, it seems, was asking the officer how fast he was speeding.

The Utah Office of Tourism might want to use Jared Massey as it’s spokesman.  Under a heading of “Come See Utah, Close Up”, they can show Jared face down on the asphalt, eating gravel and writhing in pain, as Utah Highway Patrol’s Trooper John Gardner repeatedly sends 50,000 volts through his body, while Mr. Massey’s wife screams hysterically in the background.  Oh yeah… that horror show should draw tourists to the great state of Utah.

Why am I digressing the discussion of the “Mobile Plate Hunter 900” into a discussion about misuse of the Taser? I don’t think it’s too far fetched to assume that sometime in the not-too-distant future, if it hasn’t happened already, something similar to the following scenario might play out…

A police officer on patrol is alerted by his “Mobile Plate Hunter 900” to the presence of a stolen vehicle. The officer approaches the vehicle, but because of a language barrier, the occupants do not understand the officer’s instructions. A confrontation ensues that causes the officer to use his Taser on one of the suspects, who goes into cardiac arrest and dies.

It turns out that the vehicle was not stolen. The license plate number of a stolen vehicle had been entered into a police computer incorrectly. The dead suspect had done nothing wrong. He was, as they say, just “in the wrong place at the wrong time”. If police were not going on high-tech fishing expeditions, the fellow would still be alive.

Of course, I’m ignoring all the cases where criminals are caught, and stolen vehicles are recovered, thanks to tools like the “Mobile Plate Hunter 900”. The issue I am raising is whether Americans are well served by the use of such technology, or whether it infringes on our constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties.

You have reason to be concerned if your local police use either Tasers, or the “Mobile Plate Hunter 900”. If they close your municipal swimming pool so that Agatha, Arthur and Daschle can take a dip, you’re really in trouble. You’ll need to talk to Dr. Iris Hineman (Lois Smith).

agatha-precog-550x250.jpg

Agatha (Samantha Morton), one of the three “precogs” in Minority Report

…To be continued

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