posted Apr 15, 2001

FBI turns to private sector for data
Surveillance and Privacy from Government
4/15/2001; 9:19:14 PM

'From their desktop computers, 20,000 agents at the IRS have access to outside data on taxpayers’ assets, driving histories, phone numbers and other personal statistics. Using a password, FBI agents can log on to a custom Web page that links them with privately owned files on tens of millions of Americans. And with just a few keystrokes, the U.S. Marshals Service can find out if a fugitive has recently rented a mailbox or acquired a new phone line.

'Behind such high-tech tools are ChoicePoint Inc., a publicly held Alpharetta, Ga., company and other commercial “look-up” services. ChoicePoint and its rivals specialize in doing what the law discourages the government from doing on its own — culling, sorting and packaging data on individuals from scores of sources, including credit bureaus, marketers and regulatory agencies.'

You probably saw this story earlier. I didn't post because I didn't really think it had much to do with the Internet, per se. However, after further consideration, I figured the interaction between buying private data and the systematic collection of all manner of online data is quite interesting.

You would not believe the kind of correlations that become possible when enough data is collected, and if the government gets ambitious enough and correlates enough private stores of data, you would simply not believe the accuracy of the profiles the government will be able to assemble. Remember, there is a qualitative difference between the government knowing something about you and some company knowing something about you. This should probably be made illegal.


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