The FACT Act invades asbestos victims’ privacy; we urge you to vote no

I didn’t know about this advocacy by Asbestos Cancer Victims’ Rights Campaign but agree with their position:

November 11, 2013

Dear Representative,

As organizations concerned about protecting personal privacy, we write to express our strong concerns about H.R. 982, the “Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act” or FACT Act.

The FACT Act requires asbestos trust funds to file quarterly reports on a public web site that “describe[s] each demand the trust received from, including the name and exposure history of, a claimant and the basis for any payment from the trust made to such claimant.” We are not experts on asbestos trusts, but we understand that the information that may be included in these reports includes a great deal of personal information, including the claimant’s name and address, work history, income, medical information and even the last four digits of the claimant’s social security number.

We are extremely concerned about requiring all this information to be placed on a public web site, freely available to anyone, including criminals in the U.S. and around the world who seek information about Americans for illegal purposes. Publicly disclosed information can be used, disclosed and processed with few restrictions by any person anywhere in the world. No U.S. privacy law would apply to the information once it is disclosed. Once all this information is publicly- available, asbestos claimants will be at great risk from identity thieves, con artists and other predators who rely on individualized, personal information to commit crimes. Asbestos victims’ information will also be available to data brokers, who collect, package and sell personal information to marketers for all sorts of products and services, including high-priced pharmaceutical products and predatory loans.

The exception in the FACT Act for “confidential medical records” will not protect the medical privacy of asbestos victims. The term “confidential medical record” has no definition or general meaning.There is no federal privacy law that protects personal medical information from being disclosed by an asbestos trust. The FACT Act will result in asbestos victims’ private medical history being posted on a public web site for literally the entire world to see. In addition to being a gross invasion of privacy, publishing medical records online could subject asbestos victims to medical identity theft, which can plague victims’ medical and financial lives for many years and is extremely difficult to fix after the fact.

And while asbestos victims’ full social security numbers will not be disclosed on the public web site, presumably the last four digits of their social security numbers can be disclosed. This will open up asbestos victims to identity theft and other economic crimes because many financial institutions identify their customers with only the last four digits of their social security numbers and another identifier, such as children’s names, which may also be included on the public web site. This will make asbestos victims vulnerable to impersonation by people who want access to their bank accounts, insurance policies, mortgage lenders, etc. The extent of mischief that could be made with unlimited public access to social security information is frankly mind-boggling.

People who contract asbestos disease file claims with asbestos trust funds in order to receive compensation to pay their medical bills and to provide for their families when they are too sick to work, or when they ultimately die from the disease. We believe the FACT Act exacts too high a price for the right to file a claim – the public disclosure of personal information places asbestos victims and their families at great risk. We ask you not to pass the legislation.

Thank you for considering our views.


Beth Givens
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

Pam Dixon
World Privacy Forum

Ken McEldowney
Consumer Action

Richard Holober
Consumer Federation ofCalifornia

John M. Simpson
Consumer Watchdog

John Richard
Essential Information

Mark W. Toney, Ph.D.
TURN—The Utility Reform Network

Ed Mierzwinski
U.S. Public Interest Research Group

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