The Guardian August 1, 2001


Editorial:

Don't fill it in!

Millions of letterboxes across Australia would have received a letter 
from Australia Post last week. The envelope tells us that it's all about 
"Helping you get the mail you want" and a chance to win a brand new BMW. 
Sounds fine, but beware! Our advice is not to fill it in in any 
circumstances if you value your privacy.

Inside are three pages of questions introduced as "Australian Lifestyle 
Survey" and an innocuous sounding letter from a Glenn Harrison who is the 
"Survey Manager".

The promoters of the survey is Geospend  a Division of Australia Post 
with offices in Sydney and Melbourne. But this information is in such tiny 
print that most people will not be able to read it. There is no telephone 
number but for those who would like to follow this question up it is (02) 
1300 363 242. While Geospend is listed separately in the White Pages, it is 
not listed among the entries for Australia Post. So, is it a genuine 
division of Australia Post?

There are three full pages of questions including:

* When did you move to your current address?
* Are you planning to move house in the next 12 months?
* What is you marital status?
* What are your monthly bill payments?
* What is the combined income of you and your partner?
* Would you consider leaving a legacy in your will to a charity?

There are literally hundreds of such questions. Some notes on the front of 
the survey attempt to reassure you with a statement that "At no time will 
your complete survey response ever be provided to any other organisation or 
individual". Note the word "complete".

On the back, once again in type so small that it is virtually unreadable, 
there is another statement: "...If you would rather that your details, 
where appropriate, were not passed to these organisations, then please tick 
this box." Make no mistake, if you fall for the invitation all the details 
of your life will be spread around for the private companies to make use of 
for their economic gain or to be used by State agencies to use against you 
at some time,

This is not the first survey conducted by Australia Post or its agencies 
but it spells the end of privacy and none of the privacy legislation of 
governments will protect you.

Here is what has happened in the US as told by Reg Whitaker in his book, 
The End of Privacy. "... behind the locked doors of what a guide 
calls 'the production war rooms' six robots inside small linked silos match 
data tapes at 60 miles an hour, while 20 mainframe computers swallow 1.3 
billion bytes of data a second. Acxiom's top customers include the AT & T 
Corporation, Citibank, IBM and Automatic Data Processing which handles half 
the payrolls in America.

"Acxiom gathers and sorts information about 196 million Americans. Twice a 
month, it receives every change of address filed with the US Postal 
Service.

And what happens to this data? 

"One Ohio woman learned to her horror of one kind of problem when she 
received in the mail a handwritten 12-page letter from a stranger who 
seemed to know all about her. Her details were woven into a sexual fantasy 
that he threatened to put into action when he had the chance...

The letter writer was a convicted rapist and burglar servicing time in a 
Texas State prison. He had learned her details from a similar survey to 
that being conducted by Australia Post. The surveys were processed by the 
inmates of the Texas prison and were delivered to the prison by the 
Metromail Corporation. The prison inmates entered the information on 
computers for the corporation which holds a database on more than 90 per 
cent of American households."

So here is the land of the "free" at work! Their example is being followed 
by public companies such as Australia Post in Australia. What we are seeing 
is the marriage of private enterprise and government agencies all directed 
against the interests of the people of Australia.
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