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Magazine Reporters Arrange To Buy 21 Million Identities

In investigative article, journalists seek to prove how easy it is to buy large amounts of personal data
Working under cover, a couple of magazine reporters have arranged a deal that would give them the names, addresses, bank names, and account numbers of 21 million people.

According to a report about the article in the German-language Wirtschaftswoche magazine, the two reporters met last month with two individuals, arranged through an intermediary who offered to sell a CD-ROM containing the data for 12 million euros (about $15 million).

"We took away with us the first delivery -- a CD with 1.2 million accounts -- that we couldn't imagine," said the editors in charge of the investigation, which has caused an uproar in Germany. The economic weekly has given authorities the file, which reportedly would allow someone to commit fraud on a large scale.

"In the worst case, three out of four German households would have to be afraid that some money could be taken from their checking account without their authorization, and perhaps even without their realizing it," the magazine wrote.

Peter Schaar, the German government official in charge of protecting personal data, said the incident reported by the magazine shows the need for tougher legislation. "It is essential that personal data cannot be transmitted with the individual's explicit agreement, and that the source of the data is clearly identified in order to assure that one can follow up," Schaar said in a television interview.

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