DEAR ABBY: I recently heard from an old pen pal. I answered her letter and intended to write to her regularly. She had mentioned that she was a police dispatcher. I thought that was an interesting job.
In her second letter she wrote: "I ran you through our computer. California is one of the few states that will pull you up by name only, and I found you! You are 5 foot 5 and you weigh 130 pounds." She concluded: "I hope you are not mad that I ran you. Most people enjoy when I do it, and love having a copy for themselves. Here's yours."
Enclosed was a computer printout with my license number, name, address, birthdate and physical description.
I have nothing to hide, but I am offended and actually a bit shocked. On the bottom of the document was: "Departmental Actions: None; Convictions: None; Failure to Appear: None; Accidents: None."
Obviously, as an employee in a police station, this woman has access to police computers. Now I'm wondering if she "ran me" for anything else.
I am not going to answer her letter. I think she's a very nosy person with a lot of gall. That information should be only for the police when they have a reason to run it.
Please comment. -- CAME UP CLEAN IN LOS ANGELES
DEAR CAME UP CLEAN: I, too, am shocked that unauthorized personnel could access confidential personal information -- but I suppose I shouldn't be. The problem has reached great enough proportions that it has come to the attention of our legislators in Washington, D.C. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: Here's a follow-up for the reader who told the appalling story of the in-laws who ran her name through the FBI computer, violating her privacy.
Privacy is the precious right of every American, and when our own government workers abuse their access to records, it's doubly wrong. The good news is that just before Congress adjourned, we passed a law making it a crime to misuse computer access to obtain private information in government files.
The new law is the National Information Infrastructure Protection Act. Both hackers who break into government computers from the outside and government employees who abuse their computer privileges from the inside to obtain personal information about Americans will now be subject to criminal penalties.
For details about these new privacy protections, your readers can visit my home page at http://www.senate.gov/[tilde]leahy/. -- PATRICK J. LEAHY, U.S. SENATOR, VERMONT
DEAR SENATOR LEAHY: Thank you for your generosity in offering your computer home-page address to my readers so they can obtain more information on the new privacy law. It's a piece of legislation whose time has come.