February 25, 2004 3:27 PM PST

Congressman raises offshore ID theft concerns

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American jobs aren't the only thing threatened by offshore outsourcing, a congressman says--personal information is also at risk.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., this week called attention to the privacy issue in letters sent to a number of state and federal agencies. Outsourcing of call center jobs to foreign companies, he said, poses a danger to medical, financial and other information of U.S. citizens.

"There is no assurance that privacy will be protected when personal data is transferred to offshore companies that are beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement, and the federal government needs to wake up to the risks that this presents," Markey said in a statement. "The implications for identity theft by gangs, breaches of homeland security by al-Qaida, and criminal misuse and abuse by multinational corporations are frightening."

Markey, the ranking Democrat on the Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee and co-chair of the Privacy Caucus, sent the letters to the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Reserve Bank and other organizations. The letters ask officials to report on which companies in their jurisdiction send to overseas locations personal or company information for data processing, data analysis, tax preparation and other purposes, and with what security and privacy precautions.

Businesses in a number of fields, including high-tech, are moving an increasing amount of work from the United States and Europe to affiliates or contractors in countries including India, China and the Philippines, generally to cut costs. That movement has provoked a heated response from U.S. labor organizations and politicians who say they want to protect workers at home.

"Americans are losing their jobs and their privacy in one fell swoop," Markey said.

The matter does have the attention of overseas companies. This month, for instance, the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom), an Indian information technology industry group, set up a security forum to make its members aware of security and privacy issues while handling sensitive information from foreign companies. Later this year, Nasscom plans to hold meetings with the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) and the U.S. departments of commerce and homeland security to discuss data security issues.

 

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