The Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security spend millions annually to buy commercial databases that track Americans' finances, phone numbers, and biographical information, according to a report last month by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Often, the agencies and their contractors don't ensure the data's accuracy, the GAO found.
Buying commercially collected data allows the government to dodge certain privacy rules....
"Grabbing data wholesale from the private sector is the way agencies are getting around the requirements of the Privacy Act and the Fourth Amendment," says Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington and a member of the Homeland Security Dept.'s Data Privacy & Integrity Advisory Committee.
The Justice Dept. alone, which includes the FBI, spent $19 million in fiscal 2005 to obtain commercially gathered names, addresses, phone numbers, and other data, according to the GAO. The Justice Dept. obeys the Privacy Act and "protects information that might personally identify an individual," a spokesman says. Despite the GAO's findings, a Homeland Security spokesman denies that his agency purchases consumer records from private companies. The State Dept. didn't respond to requests for comment.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
So says BusinessWeek,