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In Age of Security, Firm Mines Wealth Of Personal Data

"We have a new responsibility to society, and we want to make sure that's legitimized," Smith said. "We'd like everybody to play by the same rules and standards that society believes are correct."

An entire industry has mushroomed during the past decade because of extraordinary increases in computing power, the expansion of telecommunications networks and the ability of companies like ChoicePoint to gather and make sense of public records, criminal histories and other electronic details that people now routinely leave behind.

"The stakes have escalated since 2001," ChoicePoint Inc. chief executive Derek V. Smith said.

_____News Graphic_____
Information Control: The information industry has become an integral part of the U.S. economy and increasingly a contractor in the war on terror. A closer look at ChoicePoint, the Georgia firm that has become a one-stop show for private and government organizations seeking people's personal information.
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Transcript: The Post's Robert O'Harrow discussed his new book, "No Place To Hide," an exploration of the post-9/11 marriage of private data and technology companies forming a new security-industrial complex.
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No Place to Hide: A Multimedia Investigation Led by Robert O'Harrow, Jr. and the Center for Investigative Reporting.
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Some of these companies -- including the three major credit bureaus -- have become multi-pronged giants that regularly refresh information about more than 200 million adults and then sell that data to police, corporate marketers, homeland security officials and one another.

In doing so, they wield increasing power over the multitude of decisions that affect daily life -- influencing who gets hired, who is granted credit or who can get on an airplane.

ChoicePoint is not alone in eyeing the government for new business. LexisNexis and others also work closely with national security and intelligence officials. To compete in the homeland security market, LexisNexis paid $775 million last year for Seisint Inc., a rival company with a supercomputer and a counter-terrorism system dubbed Matrix.

ChoicePoint, though, has distinguished itself through 58 acquisitions in recent years. Those purchases have recently been companies that have close ties to the government or have products that will sate the demand for more refined details about people and their activities.

One ChoicePoint acquisition last year, Alexandria-based Templar Corp., was initially conceived by the departments of Defense and Justice to improve information sharing. Templar's system helps draw information together instantly from multiple databases. A District firm called iMapData Inc., also acquired by ChoicePoint last year, creates electronic maps of "business, economic, demographic, geographic and political" information. Its customers include intelligence and homeland security agencies.

ChoicePoint, Templar and iMapData help operate a fledgling law enforcement network in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia called the Comprehensive Regional Information Management and Exchange System, or CRIMES. A similar system operates in south Florida. ChoicePoint officials hope the system will be a model for a national information-sharing network mandated last fall when Congress approved intelligence reform legislation.

In marketing materials distributed to government officials, ChoicePoint says the system offers investigators "the ability to access all relevant information with a single query."

Two weeks ago, ChoicePoint also completed the acquisition of i2 Ltd., a British technology firm with a subsidiary in Springfield, i2 Inc., that creates computer software to help investigators and intelligence analysts in the United States and scores of others countries finds links among people, their associates and their activities.

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