FTC: Consumer Privacy Comments Concerning The National White Collar Crime Center--P974806
Federal Trade Commission
Public Workshop on Consumer Information Privacy
Database Study Comment P974806
Submitted by the
National White Collar Crime Center
The National White Collar Crime Center (the Center) is a non-profit organization, currently funded by the U. S. Department of Justice (more specifically, the Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance), dedicated to providing support services and resources to agencies and organizations involved in the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of economic crimes. Assisting agencies nationwide, the Center presently has 255 member agencies in 49 states. As one of its services to member agencies with criminal investigative authority, the Center subscribes to several commercial databases and conducts searches of public records for investigative purposes. From this perspective, the Center will comment on the uses and benefits of these databases as they relate to the Center's member agencies.
Session One: Information Collection and Use
11 What are the uses of the information in the databases? Are there beneficial uses of the information in these data bases? If so, please describe. Are there risks associated with the compilation, sale, and use of this information? If so, please describe.
The Center conducts searches on behalf of its member agencies which use the resulting information for furthering their investigations. Based on feedback from our members, three of the most helpful uses are: 1) locating subjects and witnesses, 2) locating assets, and 3) developing leads. The ways in which investigative leads can be developed can vary greatly. For instance, possible links to other individuals or companies who may be associated in a violation or crime can be drawn from data such as corporate information, Uniform Commercial Code filings, lien and judgment records, etc. Prior addresses can help point to locations where other enforcement agencies should be canvassed for possible warrants or case information. Information gleaned on outstanding liens and judgments can point to disclosure violations for subjects of securities investigations.
The key benefit of using commercial databases for our member agency support is to significantly expedite investigations. Typically, the member agencies accessing this service have no comparable means of acquiring the same kind of information within the same time frame. While law enforcement has always called on various modes of public records to help solve cases, the compilation of these records by the commercial databases has greatly reduced the time necessary for this kind of legwork.
For instance, because subjects are so mobile, investigators often have had virtually no idea where to look for a subject before searching the public records databases. In a favorite example of one of our member agencies, the case investigator needed to find a key witness who had been the subject's bookkeeper but only knew her name. By using the Center's access to public records, the witness was located halfway across the country, where she had moved only thirty days prior. She happily agreed to assist in the prosecution of the subject.
With regard to the Center's membership, there are no risks associated with the use of this information. The information is provided only to member agencies with criminal investigative authority, and the agencies are advised that the information being provided is for background purposes and should be verified before any action is taken in connection with it.
11 How should the benefits of the collection, compilation, sale, and use of information from these databases be balanced against privacy or other legal interests implicated by such practices? Are there other ways to obtain these benefits without implicating privacy or other legal interests? If so, please describe.
Because the information obtained from the commercial databases used by the Center is public record, the Center maintains that the benefits derived from the investigative use of this information far outweigh any threat to privacy. One serious concern is that efforts to protect privacy may impede legitimate law enforcement use of public record information while not thwarting use of such information by criminals. Furthermore, it should be recognized that not only are these records used by agencies for enforcement actions but also are used to help detect fraudulent use of information and thereby prevent further abuses. For instance, access to credit header information can reveal the use of someone else's social security number by a subject. Member agencies of the Center have both confirmed suspected instances of this abuse as well as discovered instances previously unknown. In one example, Center staff conducting searches for a member agency revealed that a subject had been posing as an heir to an inheritance by using the social security number of a deceased relative.