Westlaw and LexisNexis to Restrict Access to Data

18 Mar ’05

The data aggregators are very quickly adapting to The New Normal in U.S. privacy law that we’ve seen emerging in the last few months – Sen. Charles Schumer has announced some changes at WestLaw and LexisNexis has announced changes as well. These developments, the culmination of some dramatic recent news on database hacking and disclosures, were clearly influenced by noisy public anger over recent events and some very aggressive legislative momentum by Sen. Schumer toward more stringent privacy regulation.

This is a very, very good thing, and a superb example of the crushing power of adverse public opinion when it is harnessed and concentrated by the internet. Consequences are good. Transparency is good.

David Fraser has a capsule piece on the latest developments here, and E-Law Library Weblog is here.

The tone of Schumer’s press release is notable – you can almost hear the heels clicking as everyone falls into line. And of course the strangely broken grammar suggests that it was released in a scramble. Highlights:

After meeting with top executives last night, Sen. Charles Schumer (NY) announced today that Westlaw would be taking major steps to close large loopholes in its data search systems which previously allowed access to millions of Social Security numbers and other personal information. Peter Warwick, the head of Westlaw, thanked Sen. Schumer for raising important questions about privacy, and he has directed his company to take decisive action to close the privacy loopholes Schumer highlighted in letters and conversations. Westlaw undertook a complete review of its systems and made significant changes in its dealings with its clients.

Schumer said, “The steps that Westlaw has taken to close privacy loopholes and protect consumers from identity theft are a model for the rest of the data broker industry. This is a victory for consumers and big loss for criminals who want to steal your Social Security number and your identity. Identity theft costs consumers and businesses an estimated $5 billion per year and I’m happy that we’re making progress reduce that financial burden on American families.”

In their meeting on Wednesday night, Westlaw informed Sen. Schumer that:

– 85% of those who had access to Social Security numbers on Westlaw’s database do not anymore.

– No corporate clients have access to Social Security numbers anymore.

– Eliminated government clients’ access for full Soc. Sec. numbers, including the U.S. Senate, and are working to restrict access to non-law enforcement personnel at other government agencies.

– Will not sign new contracts that would allow full access to Soc. Sec. numbers.

– Individuals who still have access will be screened by Westlaw, and are working towards individualized password access for those who have been screened.

Westlaw also expressed its support for Schumer’s efforts to enact legislation addressing ID theft, including the distribution and sale of Social Security numbers except to law enforcement; support regulation of data brokering."



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