15 foolish high-tech stories

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The VA data theft in 2006, involved the theft of a laptop from an employee's home that contained the unencrypted personal records of 26.5 million military veterans and their spouses.  The breach led to several new laws concerning how the government and public companies are to treat such breaches.  The laptop was ultimately recovered and the VA maintains that no personal data was ever compromised.

The invasion of privacy class action settlement says veterans who show harm from the data theft will be able to receive payments ranging from $75 to $1,500. If any of the $20 million is left over after making payments, it would be donated to veterans' charities.

While the VA case generated a lot of animosity and some changes, when it comes to securing private information the U.S. government still has a long way to go.  A Government Accountability Office report last year found that only 2 of 24 agencies it examined had implemented all of the security requirements mandated by the Office of Management and Budget last year to protect personal information.

More recently the GAO singled out the IRS saying that while the agency has made some progress in protecting and securing its data, the IRS continues to jeopardize the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of financial and sensitive taxpayer information.

12. Can Feds sell used cars?

The government is trying to stimulate a lot of things -- the economy, Wall St., the mortgage industry, and now it wants to motivate you to get rid of your clunker of a car for the good of the country (and the moribund car industry).

A "Cash for Clunkers" measure introduced recently by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) would set up a  national voucher program to encourage drivers to voluntarily trade in their older, less fuel efficient car, truck or SUV for a car that gets better gas mileage.

Car owners could get only one voucher in any three-year period. Dealers and scrap recycling companies could get payments of $50 per vehicle. And the overall program could cost as much as $2 billion a year.

Should the bill pass, the "Cash for Clunkers" program would reimburse drivers with a credit of $2,500 to $4,500 for drivers who turn in fuel-inefficient vehicles to be scrapped and purchase a more fuel efficient vehicle.

According to the senators the program could save between 40,000 to 80,000 barrels per day of motor fuel by the end of the fourth year.

13. CVS fools spanked over customer privacy failures, pays $2.25M to settle HIPAA violations

The largest pharmacy chain in the U.S., CVS Caremark, has settled Federal Trade Commission charges it failed "to take reasonable and appropriate security measures to protect the sensitive financial and medical information of its customers and employees," in violation of federal law. In a separate but related agreement, the company's pharmacy chain also has agreed to pay $2.25 million to resolve Department of Health and Human Services allegations that it violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

According to the FTC, the settlement requires CVS, which more than 6,300 retail outlets and online and mail-order pharmacy businesses, to establish, implement, and maintain a comprehensive information security program designed to protect the security, confidentiality, and integrity of the personal information it collects from consumers and employees. It also requires the company to obtain, every two years for the next 20 years, an audit from a qualified, independent, third-party professional to ensure that its security program meets the standards of the order.

The HIPPA settlement requires CVS pharmacies to set policies and procedures for disposing of protected health information, implement a training program for handling and disposing of such patient information, conduct internal monitoring, and engage an outside independent assessor to evaluate compliance for three years. CVS also will pay HHS $2.25 million to settle the matter.

The FTC opened an investigation into CVS after numerous reports from around the country said CVS pharmacies were throwing trash into open dumpsters that contained pill bottles with patient names, addresses, prescribing physicians' names, medication and dosages; medication instruction sheets with personal information; computer order information from the pharmacies, including consumers' personal information; employment applications, including social security numbers; payroll information; and credit card and insurance card information, including, in some cases, account numbers and driver's license numbers. At the same time, HHS opened its investigation into the pharmacies' disposal of health information protected by HIPAA, the FTC  said.

14. Tweeting with 'Star Trek' actor sparks kitchen fire

It was only a matter of time before this Twitter madness leapt from merely hypnotizing the masses and bastardizing the language to causing real-world mayhem for those caught in its seductive clutches.

Here's what happened according to Network World's Buzzblog: Curt Monash, a technology analyst and Network World blogger, was twit-chatting at 1:30 a.m. with actor LeVar Burton -- Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and Kunta Kinte on "Roots." For the fiery details we turn now to my Q&A with Monash, which Twitter users should note approvingly consists of questions and answers stretching no more than 140 characters, putting aside the windier blog excerpt. (Update: Burton responds in first comment below ... and, yes, it's really him.)

Buzzblog: Please describe the sequence of events, beginning of course with telling us your Twitter platform of choice.

Monash: I still Twitter from the Web interface. Tweetdeck's data corruption is intolerable.

From a "The Monash Report" blog post: On the whole, I'm not apt to be particularly celebrity-struck.... I thought it was cool to be Twittering back and forth with LeVar Burton, of Roots and Star Trek fame, especially when he sent a direct message that read, in its entirety, "Exactly!!! Well said." But unfortunately, that wasn't the most interesting part.

While I was tweeting away in the middle of the night, I heard a shout from (my wife Linda Barlow). It turned out that we had a fire on our 49-year-old electric stove. A burner had failed to turn off, a plastic cutting board had fallen onto it, and flames had started.

 The fire left a small part of our house destroyed, a large part uninhabitable, and the rest uncomfortable. The insurance company happily feels obligated to set things to rights.

15. Girl's 22,795 text messages in a month celebrate foolishness

This story about Breanne Fite of Upland, Indiana is quickly becoming a cliché ... and not a flattering one in terms of what it says about our society. According to a Buzzblog story, twelve-year-old Breanne, you see, is one of those texting prodigies -- a Mozart who's all thumbs -- that our always-on culture has not only come to produce but to celebrate.

From The (Muncie) Star Press: Her father's last Verizon Wireless bill showed that her previous 30-day texting tabulation hit a whopping 22,795 messages.

"All I could say was, 'Thank God I get free text messaging,' " said Michael Fite, noting the bill broke down his daughter's communications as 301 picture texts, 743 text messages out, and 21,751 text messages in.

"It's one text message every 113 seconds," he noted.

What particularly struck Buzzblog about the story was not the details of the girl's texting prowess, but rather the casual acceptance and encouragement of her habit.

Layer 8 in a box

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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