Time for change: privacy ignoring data brokers sell data of US military personnel

published: Nov. 7, 2023

Take action: If the privacy of all other citizens was not as important as profitable businesses, perhaps this research and an outcry by the very influential military complex will be the trigger that's needed to put check and balances on exploitation of privacy, resale of personal data with a comprehensive privacy regulation in the entire US. Because it's sorely needed.

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A Duke University study has shed light on the alarming ease with which personal data of active-duty U.S. military personnel can be procured.

Data brokers are firms that specialize in collecting, compiling, and selling personal information from a myriad of sources such as public records, online activities, and purchase histories. They are operating with little legal and obviously no ethical restraint, openly marketing and selling personal information that can bring any stranger right to your doorstep.

The study identified over 500 websites offering military personnel data. While some declined to sell to academic researchers or demanded nondisclosure agreements, the Duke team successfully purchased thousands of records from three data brokers, whose identities were not disclosed.

The data on sale encompasses a wide range from basic details like:

  • names,
  • phone numbers,
  • addresses

and even

  • names of children,
  • marital status,
  • financial status
  • credit scores.

Remarkably, the price for acquiring such data can be as low as 12 cents per individual.

Certain brokers even provide records sorted by location, potentially allowing one to pinpoint the stationing of active-duty military personnel. The easy access to such data poses a national security threat as it could potentially be exploited by foreign intelligence services.

The investigation led by the researchers resulted in the acquisition of almost 50,000 records of service members, costing just above $10,000. This research has re-ignited the considerable concern over the potential national security implications due to the lack of stringent regulations governing the data brokerage industry.

The study not only underscores the need for consumer privacy regulations but also brings light to the less-discussed aspect of privacy regulation that pertains to national security.

Imagine service members and their children being targeted for retribution, blackmail, harrasment because of their military service or current access to national security military. For the cheap price of 12 cents per person.

While European Union countries have robust protocols governing personal data handling, the U.S. has yet to establish comprehensive data privacy legislation, with existing laws only covering specific domains like healthcare and children's data.

A common regulation that covers both EU and the US will considerably hamper data brokers from operating legally, and slow down their operation through being able to chase down their financials if they are deemed illegal.

Time for change: privacy ignoring data brokers sell data of US military personnel