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 Editorial: Little League background checks leave data vulnerable

Opinion


How would you feel about giving your neighbor all of your personal data, letting him run a background check on you, then letting him store that sensitive information in a lock box at his home or office? It would then be up to him to destroy the data after a year. Next year, you repeat the process over again, hoping last year’s data was destroyed properly.

That’s pretty much what happens when you volunteer to be a Little League coach. Although it’s all in the spirit of safeguarding children, in this age of identity theft, the loose paper trail process is opening adults up to risk. Couple that with the reliability and credibility of the background check company used, and something seemingly fail-safe, could be a crime waiting to happen.

This is not to say that the Little League board presidents who are charged with collecting this information and running the data through ChoicePoint (www.ChoicePoint.com) are not trustworthy. But is it a task they are qualified to do?

There are several issues at hand. Even if the board president is the nicest, most trustworthy man or woman in town, maybe you don’t feel comfortable giving this person your Social Security and driver’s license numbers. Maybe the thought of this person sitting at a kitchen table with a laptop, running checks using a company who had legal run-ins (more on that later) just doesn’t sit well. Maybe you’re concerned that a burglar might just make off with the applications, either planned or unwittingly, and you’ll have no idea where your personal data will end up. You’re worried and you want to pay for a State Police/FBI check and give them your personal data instead. Guess what? You can’t.

Although the National Little League organization doesn’t require the local boards to use ChoicePoint, they’ve partnered with the company through 2010 to make it financially sweet. And even if a coach chooses to get a separate background check run on themselves, he or she would still have to fill out the mandated application, which requires handing over sensitive personal data to the league. There’s no way around this; you either hand over your personal information or don’t volunteer. The board president could, however, delegate the process to another person or agency, like the police department.

Don’t even try asking the National Little League if there are loopholes and gray areas; there aren’t. They don’t want to hear about ChoicePoint’s checkered past; they say the company is reputable, they’ve had no problems.

Try telling that to former North Arlington Little League Coach John Manley, also a former North Arlington cop. Manley said as an officer, he knew of incidences where the company lost data, leading to identity thefts. ChoicePoint was also under fire in 2005 for providing inaccurate and out-of-date data, and was accused of selling information to identity thieves, according to articles published in PC World and Wired magazines (www.wired.com/politics/security/news/2005/03/66983). According to the Federal trace Commission (www.ftc.gov/opa/2006/01/choicepoint.htm), the company was ultimately ordered to pay a total of $15 million in penalties and redress.

Background checks need to be done, and no one is disputing that. But with identity theft on the rise, and a 2004 Department of Justice Study ( (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/it04.htm) indicating over three million Americans have been victimized, data safeguards have to be in place. National Little League freely admits that once individual boards have everyone’s personal data, it’s up to “local decision” how that information is destroyed. Is it shredded? By whom? When? There are no set rules.

North Arlington just passed an ordinance requiring State Police/FBI background checks for all sports. North Arlington Little League can opt to participate next year; the borough is even seeking grant money to offset the additional costs, which, most coaches said they’ll gladly pay to safeguard their data.

The North Arlington solution makes the most sense. Not only will data be secure, but the background checks themselves will be of a higher caliber. It’s up to the local Little Leagues to work with the National to square it away legally under the rules and guidelines. If everyone works together now, a new system can be in place before players take the field next spring.




 
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