"The Republicans' secret weapon is your credit card bill" ["What Does the GOP Know About You?" October 27]. Nothing gets a news story off on the wrong foot better than a bald-faced lie. Visa does not sell credit card bills to anyone, as I'm sure you know. It sells names, addresses, and phone numbers of customers who fit specified purchasing and other demographic criteria, at worst. The important distinction should be obvious. You might have done your readers a service by telling them how to opt out of such third-party "partnerships."
Dan Weissmann replies:
Mr. Hakala is correct that the GOP can't buy access to what you bought with your credit cards. My story didn't actually say where Republicans (and Democrats) get their info about consumers, like what computers and TVs we own. That information comes primarily from warranty-registration information--a fact that didn't make it into the story but probably should have.
Federal law does permit financial institutions--such as the banks that issue credit cards--to disclose a wide variety of information about you to unaffiliated third parties, but they're required to disclose their privacy policies and give you a way to opt out of having your information shared. The opt-out procedure varies from company to company. "Protecting Financial Privacy in the New Millennium: The Burden Is on You," a fact sheet from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (privacyrights.org/fs/fs24-finpriv.htm), provides a good outline of consumers' rights in this area.