that as long as the company in question is not a credit bureau, it can virtually take over ownership of personal data.

"Really, the problem is that the courts are inclined to recognize that your information, once it gets into the hands of a private company, is no longer your information. It's their information," Strickland said. "It's absolutely necessary that we get a law in place that provides people with the basic rights of notice, access and opportunity to challenge and correct -- redress in other words. The most fundamental question is notice. The public needs to have notice."

Past, Present, Future

It's important to develop privacy policies, Strickland said, so the country can move forward with programs that protect the safety of Americans, like the defunct Total Information Awareness, a system developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency after 9/11 that linked to databases of public and private information throughout the country for intelligence purposes.

The Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System (CAPPS II) was an airline security system that was grounded by privacy concerns. Secure Flight, another screening system introduced last summer by the Transportation Security Administration, is also being delayed because of privacy concerns.

"All of these ideas were inherently good in the sense that they had the potential to enhance homeland security, but nobody gave enough thought to privacy so it became a political issue," Strickland said. "We've got a totally dysfunctional system because we didn't get CAPPS II and Secure Flight is being delayed. It's almost as if government is shooting itself in the foot by not being more aggressive on the privacy issue."

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor