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Data Under Siege

The company is not saying how many consumers might be affected but is recommending that shoppers at any DSW store monitor their credit card activity closely. The company has several stores in the Washington area.

The breaches have spurred plans for several hearings on Capitol Hill that begin today. The relatively obscure information-broker business will get particular scrutiny, with its major companies maintaining and selling names, Social Security numbers, driver's license information, credit card data and other records on virtually every U.S. adult.

Stealing Personal Data Identity theft and the misuse of information services by thieves has been rising for nearly a decade. Here are some major cases.
Audio: The Washington Post's Robert O'Harrow discusses the security breach at LexisNexis and the recent spike in identity theft.
_____Essential Background_____
When Your Identity Is Their Commodity (The Washington Post, Mar 6, 2005)
ChoicePoint Data Cache Became a Powder Keg (The Washington Post, Mar 5, 2005)
Databases Called Lax With Personal Information (The Washington Post, Feb 25, 2005)
ChoicePoint Victims Have Work Ahead (The Washington Post, Feb 23, 2005)
ID Data Conned From Firm (The Washington Post, Feb 17, 2005)
In Age of Security, Firm Mines Wealth Of Personal Data (The Washington Post, Jan 20, 2005)
Critics Question Impartiality of Panel Studying Privacy Rights (The Washington Post, Mar 11, 2005)
Hackers Target U.S. Power Grid (The Washington Post, Mar 11, 2005)
MBA Applicants Pay Price for Unauthorized Site Searches (The Washington Post, Mar 10, 2005)
More Security News
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Seisint alone claims to have 20 billion records in its system.

"This is the latest window on security weaknesses that jeopardize the personal information that data brokers hold . . . and the view is a chilling one," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Data brokers are also increasingly partners with the government in important law enforcement and homeland security efforts, and their performance in protecting data is one of the important criteria in evaluating those relationships."

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who heads the Judiciary Committee, said the breaches are "becoming an epidemic. It's very serious. Privacy is one of our most prized values."

Sanford, the LexisNexis executive, said the breach at his firm was discovered in January by a team of LexisNexis employees examining the security and authentication procedures used by Seisint.

The team was trying to figure out how to "sync everything up" between the LexisNexis and Seisint computer systems, Sanford said.

LexisNexis Group acquired Seisint last summer for $775 million in cash. At the time, Seisint was best known as the company behind a counter-terrorism supercomputer called the Matrix, which enabled law enforcement and intelligence authorities to blend investigative files with billions of public records.

In buying Seisint last summer, LexisNexis aimed to compete more aggressively with ChoicePoint for lucrative homeland security and law enforcement contracts. Seisint's main product is Accurint, a service that markets the possibility of giving police, private investigators, lawyers and others access into every corner of society.

"Instantly FIND people, their assets, their relatives, their associates, and more," the company's marketing material said. "Search the entire country for less than the cost of a phone call -- a quarter."

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