A front page story in today's Los Angeles Times reports that a fraud ring has hacked into a private data-mining company's computers and stolen the Social Security numbers and other private information for tens of thousands of people.
The victimized company, Choice Point, is one of the country's largest data-mining firms -- and has been marketing the information gathered for commercial purposes to the federal government to help it monitor the lives of Americans in the fight against terrorism. Choice Point's activities are documented in the recently published book, "No Place to Hide," by Washington Post technology correspondent Robert O'Harrow. The cyber attack against Choice Point comes at a time when the White House is gearing up to renew and possibly expand the USA Patriot Act, and law enforcement is moving forward in its use of outsourcing to private contractors to collect personal information on those under surveillance.
In collaboration with O'Harrow, the Center for Investigative Reporting recently completed a multimedia investigation into ChoicePoint and other companies now providing such information to the U.S. government. For a more in-depth look at Choice Point and its activities, read O'Harrow's late-January profile in the Post here.