Safeguarding Privacy

The article on surveillance by Thomas B. Rosenstiel (May 18) raises many important points about a growing threat to our personal privacy. But it fails to report that there is an opportunity for Californians to learn about their privacy rights (as well as the shortage of such rights) and how to safeguard their personal information.

California is the only state in the nation with a consumer education program dedicated to informing consumers about privacy protection. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse is funded by the California Public Utilities Commission's Telecommunications Education Trust. It is located at the University of San Diego's Center for Public Interest Law and has been operating since October, 1992.

In the first 18 months of the PRC's operation, nearly 15,000 Californians have called its toll-free hot line, (800) 773-7748, to ask questions about privacy--a clear indication of the high level of concern consumers have about their privacy.

The PRC has distributed hundreds of thousands of its free fact sheets, which offer practical tips on how to safeguard personal information in such areas as: junk mail, telemarketing, credit reports, workplace privacy, Social Security numbers, medical privacy, cellular phones, harassing phone calls, wiretapping and government records.

The PRC recognizes the serious problems that exist in this country regarding the lack of privacy protection in laws and regulations. By arming consumers with information on their privacy rights, it is raising consumers' awareness about an important social issue at the same time that it gives them some practical tips on how to limit the release of their personal information.

BETH GIVENS, Project Director

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

University of San Diego

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