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February 14, 2003

Planned Parenthood Documents Found in Public Recycling Bin

from Eyewitness News, ABC, Channel 11
by Sonya Pfeiffer

An Eyewitness News investigation looks into a breach of privacy from a healthcare provider built on patient confidentiality — Planned Parenthood. As Eyewitness News discovered, your private records are anything but private.

news photo
Dr. Anton
(Photo: Roger Winstead)

It takes a little extra effort to recycle stuff: brown bottles, green bottles, plastics, and paper. It takes even more effort to shred paper with personal information before tossing it in a bin. "I do it because I don't want people to know my name and address," said recycler Betsy Hann.

Plenty of recyclers aren't so diligent. We went through some recycling bins and found dozens and dozens of bills, emails, financial statements and magazine subscriptions. But we also found something you'd never expect to find in a public recycling bin: page after page, bill after bill, recycled white paper from Planned Parenthood's Raleigh office, complete with patient name, age, address, but also type of tests done: pregnancy testing, herpes testing, gonorrhea testing, prescription recommendations and even how payment was tendered.

"This is just unforgivable," said Annie Anton.

Tips to Protect Your Privacy:

Shred, shred, shred - anything with name, address, phone number.

Look for mail with bar codes - those often contain info about you and your preferences. Shred!

Double check with doctors/hospitals/pharmacies - any place you reveal personal info - that they properly shred and discard your info.

Don't fill out questionnaires or send back preference sheets with orders or products.

[Editor’s note, NC State University: Dr. Annie Anton is an assistant professor of software engineering in the College of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science at NC State University.]

Anton, a privacy expert at NC State University, took a look at the records we found. She preaches about identity theft and personal responsibility, but what we found left her nearly speechless. "There's nothing that can be said," Anton said. "They have to change their policy. I suspect they have a policy in place but they're not abiding by it."

"This is contrary to everything Planned Parenthood believes in and stands for," said Planned Parenthood's Robert Mazer.

Mazer says the misplacement of this paperwork is unacceptable. She says the bills were inadvertently put in the recycle bin, not in the shredder where they should have been put, and the mistake will never happen again. "We can just say that we take every step humanly possible to ensure that this doesn't happen and won't happen again," Mazer said.

Online producer: Shaun Chavis Benchi


Media Contact: Dr. Ana (“Annie”) Anton, aianton@burdell.csc.ncsu.edu
For more information, visit the Privacy Place website: http://www.theprivacyplace.org/



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