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Thursday, March 10, 2005 08:54 pm

common sense 3-10-05


A U.S. senator, campaigning for re-election, visited a nursing home, where he approached an old fellow who was watching TV and asked, “Do you know who I am?” The old man replied, “No, but if you go to front desk they’ll tell you.”

Luckily for us, if we forget who we are, we can go to ChoicePoint Inc., for they know all about all of us. This outfit is an aggregator of personal information on just about everyone — its computers hold 19 billion bits of sensitive info on nearly every American, including our Social Security numbers, credit and medical histories, car registrations, job applications, military records, lawsuits, and police files.

ChoicePoint’s in the business of selling our private information for a profit.

To whom does it sell? Banks, marketers, government agencies, your boss . . . and practically anyone else willing to pay this data broker’s fee — including, it turns out, criminals. In February, it was reported that a ring of thieves had been allowed to open accounts with ChoicePoint and extract volumes of personal data on as many as half-a-million Americans. This information can be used for identity theft, allowing thieves to drain the bank and credit-card accounts of their victims.

Few of us are aware that these corporate data peddlers have amassed so many details of our lives, much less that they operate with almost no oversight and no requirements for security and privacy protection. Indeed, ChoicePoint knew of the data theft in October but did not inform the victims or law-enforcement officials. Only California requires that the companies report such thefts, and even there, ChoicePoint didn’t begin notifying potential victims until February . . . and the notification was by mail! A spokesman says that the letters should arrive “within a few weeks.”

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