Columnist goes public about privacy

Quoting Federal Trade Commission stats that point to identity theft as a top consumer issue, New York Times language columnist William Safire told an audience in Washington at the CSI Security Conference that it's up to individuals to take responsibility for the protecting their own information.

But there are steps the technology security industry can take as well, Safire said during his opening keynote speech at the Computer Security Institute conference that kicked off Monday (product news from the show ). Safire, a civil libertarian who denounced the PATRIOT Act, said there's not enough protection of confidentiality today. "The balance of civil liberty has been knocked out of whack," he told the audience of security professionals.

One example of technology offering too much information is the use of RFID tags on clothing and shoes that could track the wearer's location, he said. "Soon, unless you're ready to walk naked and barefoot through a forest, you'll never be alone," Safire said.

Individuals need to educate themselves about what is being done with their data, and take appropriate steps to protect it, he continued. For example, consumers should understand what it means to "opt in" versus "opt out," lest they end up falling for "the old book-of-the-month club trick," he said.

Turning his comments to the industry, Safire charged security professionals with helping to alert the public to the dangers of privacy violations and educating about prevention. "There's a lack of anger" over how personal data is used and made available today, he said, "your industry [must be] saying what it is doing to try and protect privacy, this is what you've got to do to help us."

To fulfill the title of his speech, "What's Going to Happen in Washington," the former political columnist and speechwriter for President Nixon made some predictions. Safire ran down a list of who he views as presidential hopefuls for the 2008 elections, adding that campaigns will begin gaining momentum as soon as next year.

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