Lazarus had it easy. Not so for Laura Todd, who has been trying to come back from the dead for nearly a decade. According to WSMV News in Nashville [link no longer available]:
According to government paperwork, Laura Todd has been dead off and on for eight years, and Todd said there’s no end to the complications the situation creates.
“One time when I (was) ruled dead, they canceled my health insurance because it got that far,” she said.
Todd’s struggle started with a typo at the Social Security administration. She said the government has assured her since the problem that they have deleted her death record, but she said the problems keep cropping up.
On Wednesday, the IRS once again rejected her electronic tax return. She said she’s gone through it before.
“I will not be eligible for my refund. I’m not eligible for my rebate. I mean, I can’t do anything with it,” she said.
Channel 4’s Nancy Amons first reported about Todd’s ordeal last week, but Amons has since found out more about how common the problem is.
According to a government audit, Social Security had to resurrect more than 23,000 people in a period of less than two years. The number is the approximate equivalent to the population of Brentwood.
The audit said the lack of documentation in the Social Security computer makes it impossible for the government’s auditors to determine if the people are dead or alive.
But some of those who are alive have found more complications after their resurrection.
Illinois resident Jay Liebenow was also declared dead. He said Todd is now more vulnerable to identity theft because after someone dies, Social Security releases that person’s personal information on computer discs. He said the information is sold to anyone who wants it, like the Web site Ancestry.com.
One of the problems with modern recordkeeping is that although computers make things more efficient, they compound the effects that errors have on people’s lives. The difficulty is that the law currently does not afford people with sufficient power to clean up mistakes in their records. Since information is so readily transferred between entities, an error that is corrected in one database has often migrated to another database before the correction. The error doesn’t die. Instead, you do.
Responsibility should be placed on every entity that maintains records to ensure that information is correct and that errors are promptly fixed. Moreover, when information is shared with others, the one sharing the information should have duties to inform the others of the error; and those receiving the data should have a duty to check for corrections in the data from the source.
Right now, we’re living in a bureaucratic data hell, and that’s because that there aren’t sufficient incentives for entities to be careful with the records they keep about people.
Originally Posted at Concurring Opinions
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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.