Friday, April 15, 2005

Seisint: What Happened

What really happened with Seisint, LexisNexis, and Accurint?

Last year LexisNexis (based in Ohio, and owned by Reed Elsevier, based in London) bought the well known information broker Seisint, (based in Boca Raton, Florida, and which previously had been associated with the MATRIX debacle).

Seisint has a subsidiary called Accurint. These companies sell the personal information on Americans to companies that use them for all kinds of reasons, especially marketing. They sell names, addresses, zip codes, phone numbers, dates of birth, and even the full Social Security Numbers.

LexisNexis and Seisint have 30 billion records on individuals. Information they hold includes birth and death records, marriage and divorce records, motor vehicle information, property holdings, tax assessments, deeds, mortgages, criminal information, bankruptcies, judgments, liens, and court settlements, among other information.

As information brokers, they are not as highly regulated as credit reporting agencies.

Companies buy access to this information for a fee. They can use a code, or ID and password, to gain access to the database online. These companies are only supposed to grant access for certain permitted uses. Not just anybody can gain access to the database. Uses include for law enforcement, and by certain other government, as well as collection agencies, private investigators, and others. Of course employees of these companies and agencies can gain access to the database.

LexisNexis is now looking into the possibility that unauthorized people have been able to gain access to information held in the Accurint database, using passwords that were given out to businesses that paid the required fee. They say it may have happened as much as 59 times over the past two years, involving the personal information of over 310,000 people.

It is not clear how this happened, or what security measures were in place. The 59 incidents are apparently not all related.

LexisNexis says it is the process of notifying the affected people, and also that it has limited the sale of Social Security Numbers.


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