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Monday, August 20, 2007


Here we go again. The Department of Justice is still at it using junk mail data brokers like ChoicePoint to hunt identity thieves, which would be great if they weren’t prying into your innocent, private information to do it. A Consumer Affairs article says they are building a new database to—what else?—look for terrorists, using—what else?—databases provided by junk mailers like ChoicePoint.. After a rash of these government attempts in the last few months, wouldn’t you like to see at least some results…like catching a terrorist on American soil? The new program is called “System To Assess Risk,” or STAR, and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, criticized the system for its potential for abuse. Civil rights advocates take it a step further citing the inaccuracy of data being used that could end up labeling innocent Americans as terrorists. In a 2005 study conducted by non-profit, Privacy Activism, error rates of 73 percent were found in the most basic of biographical information like name, Social Security number, address, and phone number, in the background reports from ChoicePoint. Apparently STAR will assign a risk score based on information like this—in the same Privacy Activism study, another data broker, Acxiom had an error rate of 67 percent—to identify potential terrorist suspects. The Washington Post reports that STAR poses the same question again of the feds using consumers’ sensitive data to spy on U.S. citizens “without accountability.” Knowing this administration, STAR’s “risk” profile will be “top secret” and only a select few will be privy to its makeup. The Department of Homeland Security has its own “risk” program called, “Automated Targeting System” that is supposed to indicate “potential suspects.” Is this the one that identified Senator Ted Kennedy as a threat? At best, these procedures are borderline, based on results to date. STAR also runs questionable names against the Accurint database to track addresses, phone numbers and driver’s licenses. Accurint is a subsidiary of LexisNexis, another junk mail data broker like ChoicePoint. STAR supposedly will be limited to trained users. Haven’t we heard that one before?

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