Database Nation, With Anchovies


This article in today's USA Today highlights how your personal information held by private companies can really hurt you: when they sell it to people who use it for state purposes. It also limns how some privacy concerns could be poo-poohed as merely attempts to make sure you can keep getting away with things it used to be easy to get away with in a pre-database world. An excerpt:

It's dinnertime, and you're hungry and tired, so you pick up the phone and order your favorite pizza. But you might have just landed yourself a lot more than pepperoni and cheese.
If you owe fines or fees to the courts, that phone call may have provided the link the state needed to track you down and make you pay.

That's one of the strategies of firms such as a company being hired by the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator to handle its fine and debt collections.

David Coplen, the state office's budget director, said he discovered that pizza delivery lists are one of the best sources such companies use to locate people.
Michael Daniels, an ACS division vice president, declined to reveal exactly which companies' databases ACS uses.

Daniels said sifting through private databases, from pizza deliveries to magazine subscriptions, is just one piece of the work the company does to help states collect more money and make the process more efficient.

The company's clients typically see their collections rise anywhere from 33% to 100% in the first year of a contract, Daniels said.
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Coplen said having ACS pursue those who owe court fees and fines will not only bring money into the state but will teach people that when they are fined, they must pay up.

Currently, Coplen said, if an Illinois resident fails to pay a Missouri speeding ticket, a Missouri court can issue a warrant. But sheriffs' offices rarely have time or staff to drive hours away and deliver such a warrant, he said. For ACS, however, there's a financial incentive to go after such scofflaws.