March 15, 2005

Wired News: ChoicePoint Says It's Sorry

Wired News: ChoicePoint Says It's Sorry

I'm not buying it. ChoicePoint knew and ignored the problems of information gathering.

Privacy advocates argue otherwise. When it comes to the definition of information "made publicly available by others," Chris Hoofnagle, an attorney for the D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), claims public records taken out of their original context and lumped together are no longer "public" at all -- especially if only select customers can pay to see them.

"What [ChoicePoint] does is go out there and collect something that is free and public for good reasons," Hoofnagle says. "And they've twisted these beneficial collections of information into private and more dangerous purposes."

In other words, an individual record on file at the county courthouse showing how much you borrowed to buy your home should be available -- to the tax assessor or a nosy neighbor or whoever else feels like trudging down to the courthouse to dig it up.

But to give that record a new home, alongside the make and model of your car, every lawsuit filed by or against you, all your recent traffic tickets, the names and ages of your children, and any crime with which you've ever been charged, is to morph it from a benign court document into a crucial component of an unauthorized dossier, Hoofnagle claims.

Lee, of course, doesn't see things EPIC's way. "That's their view of the world," he says. "They're certainly welcome to that."
In fact, until recently ChoicePoint wouldn't let you check your own information without paying, and sells this information they're gathering to the government -- circumventing US law about keeping files on it's citizens.

Now, the CEO is sorry the information got in the wrong hands. Well, I guess that just clears it all up and lets them off the hook. I'd personally like to see them charged for every individual release. This was not only forseeable, it wasn't even a question that it would happen. There's Law And Order episodes where the plot revolves around the release of data from a data gathering company like ChoicePoint. For pete's sake, this was going to happen; and now, you're "sorry?"

Potentially, for each person's information that was lost, that's years of credit card problems, housing problems, insurance problems, loan problems that you've created for them. 140,000. Information about rental histories. Maiden names. Social security numbers. Credit card accounts.

And this should go away because the CEO says he's sorry?

Why doesn't the CEO tell us what he's going to do to stop the next release of information? And how they'll stop this one? They've made millions off of selling information about people -- shouldn't they bear some responsibility to the people who's information is now in the wrong hands?

Posted by Ted Stevko at March 15, 2005 11:36 PM