Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Chris Hoofnagle
EPIC Legislative Counsel


WASHINGTON, DC -- The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has
asked a federal court to order the disclosure of records regarding the
sale of personal information to law enforcement agencies. Government
access to personal data has become more controversial since September
11 as anti-terrorism investigative powers have been expanded.

In a complaint filed in federal district court on Monday, EPIC charged
that the Departments of Justice and Treasury have violated the law by
failing to respond to a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
requests submitted by the Washington-based privacy organization. The
FOIA requests sought records relating to "transactions,
communications, and contracts" between law enforcement agencies and
private firms that are engaged in the sale of personal information.

The information requests were submitted in response to news reports
that ChoicePoint routinely sells personal information to federal law
enforcement agencies. The requests were filed with the Federal Bureau
of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the United States
Marshals Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Immigration and
Nationalization Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and

"Through the mining of public records and the purchase of credit
reporting data, private sector companies are amassing troves of
personal information on citizens for the government," said EPIC
attorney Chris Hoofnagle, who filed the court challenge. "Serious
questions exist involving citizen access to profiles, their accuracy,
and the potential for misuse of personal information."

Profiling companies Experian and ChoicePoint sell personal information
to federal law enforcement agencies. Documents obtained by EPIC show
that ChoicePoint and Experian sold the IRS credit header data,
property records, state motor vehicle records, marriage and divorce
data, and international asset location data. IRS employees have
access to this personal data from their desktop computers. To
facilitate the IRS account and access for other law enforcement
agencies, ChoicePoint has created a federal government web portal at

"ChoicePoint and Experian are selling profiles on citizens with little
public awareness or oversight," said Hoofnagle. "We need to ask
ourselves: who is watching the watchers?"

EPIC is a public interest research center in Washington, D.C. It was
established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging civil
liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and
constitutional values.

The complaint in EPIC v. Department of Justice, et al. is online at:

EPIC maintains a web page on consumer profiling online at:

EPIC maintains a web page on public records profiling online at:

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