The Government’s main supplier of personal information on Americans is ChoicePoint, an Alpheretta, Ga., company that admittedly provided Florida election officials with inaccurate data that resulted in thousands of citizens being barred from voting in the state last November.
ChoicePoint inputs data into its computers covering citizens’ credit histories, birth dates, Social Security numbers, known aliases, present and former addresses and phone numbers, data gotten from government agencies such as motor vehicle registrations, liens, deed transfers, phone directory listings and voter registration rolls.
ChoicePoint has the ability to cross match its huge databases to amass incredible amounts of personal information about the 180 million-plus Americans whose personal lives are deeply penetrated by the top credit agencies. Such data include details as speeding fines citizens have paid, bankruptcies and spouses’ names. Credit agencies can retrieve all that with a single Social Security number.
And simply by accessing the company’s computer databases, all of that intrusive data is available to the feds, who are not allowed to go out on their and dig up such information themselves.
"It’s simply an end run around the Privacy Act of 1974,” Marc Rothenberg of Electronic Privacy Information Center told the Wall Street Journal.
According to the Journal, the Department of Justice paid $8 million to ChoicePoint last year. And the IRS has signed a contract with the company worth up to $12 million for access to their data.
The FBI denies that it abuses its access to such sensitive personal information.
FBR spokesman John Collingwood told the Journal: "We are only permitted to obtain evidence and information consistent with applicable laws, including the Privacy Act, and rigorous attorney general guidelines.
"A vigorous inspection process, judicial oversight of prosecuted cases and civil remedies are in place to enforce compliance by FBI employees,” Collingwood said.
Just how intrusive all this data gathering can be is shown by ChoicePoint’s fear that Congress will enact the laws NewsMax.com and scores of privacy advocates are demanding – laws that would restrict the private use of Social Security numbers that are now being introduced in Congress in an effort to stop the growing crime of identity theft and stalkings that have resulted from unlawful use of Social Security numbers.
According to the Journal, ChoicePoint is warning its stockholders that enactment of such a law would hamper its ability to do business.
Attorneys and privacy advocates are outraged by the fed’s use of private information gathering companies despite the government’s assurances that the process in place contains sufficient safeguards.
"If the government can’t go out and collect information on you absent predication, they shouldn’t be able to go out” and buy it from an outside source, Scott Chaney, a former head prosecutor at the Justice Department’s computer crime unit, told the Journal.
Some attorneys believe that the practice may violate citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches.
"When the government actively encourages and solicits individuals to act on their behalf, those individuals" become, in effect, government agents, San Antonio, Texas defense lawyer Gerry Goldstein complained to the Journal.
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