- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

We worry a lot about Big Brother watching us but in the electronic age, it's often the private sector that's prying. A story broke the other day about a Princeton University admissions officer being caught snooping into the supposedly confidential online academic records of at least 11 high school students who had applied to arch-rival Yale University. One of the applicants turns out to have been presidential niece Lauren Bush, whose records were pawed over, according to news reports, at least four times by an unauthorized user via a computer located in the Princeton University admissions office. Princeton Director of Admissions Stephen LeMenager has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of this black bag job.

The creepy thing is how apparently easy it is for someone with even basic computer skills to obtain supposedly "secure" personal information via the Internet. All of the students who supplied their background material to Yale did so on the apparently naive assumption that only duly-authorized Yale admissions personnel would have access to it. They were clearly misinformed. The Web is so new that privacy safeguards have yet to catch up to the technology. It is a problem that encompasses far more than the world of collegiate admissions, too: Hackers can and do readily access such critical information as your employment and medical history.

Are such breaches of confidentiality any different in principle and effect from a physical rummaging-through of one's private files, purse or desk drawer, and should they be treated accordingly? If Mr. LeMenager had broken into Princeton's admissions office with a flashlight and Minox camera, he would undoubtedly be subject to aggressive prosecution. Does the fact that he accomplished the job via a modem change the nature of the act?

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