Americans Fear Data Raiders Are Snatching Their Privacy

With the growing computerization of nearly every transaction in society, the public is concerned about threats to their personal privacy. Knowing that, information services conglomerate Equifax Inc. for the past three years has been surveying Americans about their worries. The latest Equifax survey, conducted by Louis Harris & Associates Inc. shows that 68% of 1,254 respondents believe that the use of computers by corporations is a threat to their privacy -- up from 37% in an independent Harris survey in 1978.

The new survey also pinpoints where most Americans draw the line when it comes to privacy. While more than 70% of Americans think it's O.K. for companies to check public data -- such as court records and property tax records -- to assess applicants for credit, insurance, or employment, less than 35% say it's all right for such records to be provided to private investigators or junk mailers. In addition, 58% believe that their credit reports aren't properly protected by current laws and business practices, up from 51% in 1990. Finally, 55% think that the privacy situation will worsen by the year 2000.

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