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News Briefs II

FTC Suggests Tighter Restrictions On Access to Computer Information

The Washington Post

The Federal Trade Commission has suggested that Congress tighten the restrictions on who can obtain information like Social Security numbers and prior addresses from consumer credit bureaus.

The move follows an outpouring of consumer concern last week over reports that anyone with a credit card and a computer could easily track down such details about people through various online services. With such information, fraud artists have opened credit lines in others' names, run up thousands of dollars of charges and wrecked some consumers' credit histories.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act limits who can receive information concerning individuals' credit-worthiness. But FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky noted in a Sept. 20 letter to Sen. Richard Bryan (D-Nev.), senior Democrat on the Banking Committee's financial institution subcommittee, no provision of the law "specifically prohibits the release of non-credit-related consumer identifying information" like Social Security numbers.

In June, database giant Lexis-Nexis briefly made such information widely available, a decision that sparked a wave of consumer protests on the Internet. Other organizations include such consumer identification information in electronic databases that are sold to groups including law firms and the media. The Washington Post, for instance, subscribes to several such databases.

Private Sector Contract Angers American Postal Workers Union

The Washington Post

When you call the U.S. Postal Service's toll-free telephone number to ask about Zip codes or the location of the nearest post office, the person providing the information may not be a postal worker.

And that has the nation's largest postal union furious. Union officials are vowing to fight the federal agency's announced plans to give a growing number of such jobs to private industry.

Last week, the 365,000-member American Postal Workers Union faced its first challenge under Postmaster General Marvin T. Runyon's new program to "contract out" postal chores to the private sector. The agency announced that it has signed a two-year, $65.7 million contract with a Denver firm to operate a 24-hour postal information telephone line for six western states.

Teletech Facilities Management Inc. will hire about 1,200 full- and part-time workers to answer what postal officials describe as "routine postal questions" for customers in the West under the contract. It is the first of six regional information service centers the agency plans to open within the next 18 months.

Beginning in mid-December, the Denver center will offer around-the-clock information to callers from Alaska, Hawaii, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington over an 800 telephone number.

Postal officials compared the service to that offered by banks, airlines and credit card companies and said it was another service that postal customers wanted.