FTC: Consumer Privacy Comments Concerning RJC & Associates Investigations--P974806
RJC & Associates
June 23, 1997
The Honorable Robert Pitofsky
RE: Support of Self- Regulation by the Information Industry
Dear Mr. Secretary
In response to the commission's request for additional comments regarding the hearing June 10, 1997, I as a licensed private investigator, am a routine user of public and non-public records such as credit headers. I support the proposition of self-regulation by the information industry.
The data that we regularly access and use in our reports to clients has beneficial use and a need in society. It is important that the free flow of information be available to support commerce and our judicial system. It also allows the public, who do not have the resources to manage many of the problems they are faced with, to represent themselves without looking to the government for help. We use this information to investigate business theft, insurance and real estate fraud and other types of crimes that have an economic impact on the daily lives of our clients. Local and federal law enforcement officials are overwhelmed by the tasks placed upon them investigating crimes against persons and property. We are able to assist the general public to help reduce fraud and other wrong doing that does not meet the threshold set by law enforcement when prioritizing scarce resources. Let me site several examples; one of my clients builds computers, a customer failed make payments as promised, the storeowner was carrying the note. By accessing personal identifier information including a social security number, I was able to locate the person even though he had left the state. My client was able to contact his customer, who acknowledged he had made a mistake and agreed to pay the balance due. Another client owns an equipment rental business with several outlets. On occasion, his customers have failed to return expensive equipment they have rented or leased on a long-term basis. Many of these people are also small businesspersons who had run into cash flow problems. Using personal identifying information, I have been able to locate the equipment and assist the owner in recovering his property, and in some instances, monies due. Either of these two situations could have been referred to local law enforcement, however, the level of effort they would have received is probably minimal because of the volume of crimes against persons. Even today, as I composed this letter, I received a phone call from a woman who is attempting to locate a person who owes her money because of a business deal gone bad. Unfortunately, the person in question has a very common last name. Access to a social security number or other personal identification information allows me to assist my client in finding the correct individual. My client expects that by finding the person and confirming that she owns certain property, the debt will be resolved, hopefully outside of court. If not, we will be able to ascertain that we are dealing with the correct person when pursuing legal remedies.
I am a member of Rotary International and subscribe to the Rotary four way test. Additionally, I come from a long career as a federal Special Agent. I learned very early on that there is no justification for breaking the law in order to enforce the law. I continue to subscribe to that premise. Occasionally, I do get requests to perform illegal tasks. If while talking to the potential client I can determine a way to meet their needs legally, I will suggest an appropriate course of action. If on the other hand, I can not address their needs in a legal matter, I decline the case. If I have a reason to suspect that a request for my services is in furtherance of an illegal or criminal undertaking, I have no reservations about contacting the appropriate law enforcement agency.
Protection of privacy, balanced with reasonable access to information that identifies particular persons, can be achieved through industry self-regulation of information, its uses and distribution. The information industry, private investigators in particular, desire the opportunity to self-regulate. We welcome government help in establishing a set of rules and regulations that looks to the industry to set the standard by which it operates. I ask that you support self-regulation allowing the information industry to establish a set of policies and regulations that allows reasonable access to personal information in pursuit of commerce and private matters.
Robert J. Cathcart
Robert J. Cathcart