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02/19/2005 Archived Entry: "The ChoicePoint data fiasco"

GARY NORTH HAS AN EXCELLENT TAKE on the ChoicePoint data disaster. Scathingly apt article -- though obviously written before ChoicePoint admitted that the real scope of their sloppy info gap went far, far beyond the "35,000 Californians" North mentions.

The two most shocking things, though, are that so many aware, intelligent people like North have never heard of ChoicePoint until now, and that Americans blandly accept that firms buy and sell masses of their personal information, including SSNs.

ChoicePoint, BTW, not only sells info to law enforcement, as many news stories have noted. It has such cozy-cozy connections with the feds that several federal agencies, including the FBI, have their own ChoicePoint web sites. To make this relationship even cozier, the firm has in the last several years expanded from merely gathering consumer data into explicitly seeking "security" and "intelligence" data. Yes, "intelligence" data on you and me.

Yes, the law says the feds can't maintain dossiers on innocent Americans. So -- wink, wink, nod, nod -- ChoicePoint does that odious job for them.

I absolutely don't advocate violence, but if I were writing a novel of the resistance, some fictional hero of mine would surely blow ChoicePoint (or at least its tools of its trade) straight off the planet. Even the dreadful Big Brother chipmaker, Applied Digital Solutions, is less of an enemy to privacy, individual sovereignty, and freedom. (Of course, chips and data will ultimately work together to enslave us. Hand-in-hand down the path they'll take us.)

We will never be a sane, decent society again until individuals deal with, and respect, each other as individuals. Institutions must stop considering human lives to be mere data-fields, mere "aggregate information," "demographic units," or "psychographic profiles." Institutions, government, private, or horrible hybrid, must stop considering us as their property to be used and traded willy-nilly as they deem fit.

No doubt the newsmedia and Congress will editorialize about ChoicePoint's unconscionable screwup and call for "reform" and "improved data security." But reform is not what's needed. The fundamental concepts ChoicePoint and other data aggregators work on are outrageous, and the only real solution to their control of our lives is a radical one -- radical meaning a solution that goes to the root.

North is wrong that no media other than MSNBC covered the story. NPR was on it all day yesterday and the reports are spreading. The news stories (and even Gary North's column) are going on -- once again, predictably -- about what you should do in event of identity theft. It can take years to re-establish both your credit and your credibility. In the meantime, you are often treated as a criminal, hounded by collection agencies, and denied such basic "benefits of society" as bank accounts and jobs. You'll discover that you're often disbelieved when you explain that you're not the one who committed all those crimes and financial misdeeds in your own name. By all means, guard against identity theft. And if ChoicePoint or anybody else has made you a victim, get moving. And good luck.

But the real question is: Why should you be forced to go through such hell -- simply because some company to whom your life meant nothing but another dollar in the bank didn't give a bleeping eff about protecting the information it ripped from you?

ChoicePoint ruined your life? ChoicePoint sold your life to creeps? ChoicePoint should go through the hell of reconstructing it. But of course, ChoicePoint can't go through hell. It has no soul. As well as no face, no conscience, and no individual liability. At the very, very least, ChoicePoint should do the one thing it has absolutely refused ever to do for anybody -- remove our records from its databases. Think there's one tiny snowflake's little chance it'll do that?

Consider this: ChoicePoint refuses to remove your data at your request. Then they deliberately sell it, or let it slip -- entirely against your will and even over your objections -- to snitches, snoops, and thieves (who may in turn share it with other snitches, snoops, and thieves). Then they -- and the ohsohelpful news media -- tell you it's your problem to rebuild your life from the ruins.

Once upon a time, identity theft was "retail." You got sloppy with a credit card slip or a discarded bill and some creep pulled a "gotcha." It was your problem -- albeit it was also some creep's fault. Now, identity thieves are wholesale customers of giant data warehouse businesses like ChoicePoint. And ChoicePoint is at least as guilty as the scum with whom they do their dirty, sloppy trade.

May every single creator, executive, administrator, partner, and enabler of ChoicePoint one day reap the cosmic, karmic consequences of the hell they have sown for others.

Posted by Claire @ 10:36 AM CST

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