Lawyers for EPIC sought the information after seeing news reports and obtaining documents that indicate at least six federal law enforcement agencies buy personal information from database companies.
The companies include ChoicePoint Inc., which gathers and sells information for purposes ranging from employment background checks to insurance fraud investigations, and Experian, which claims to have information gathered from "hundreds of public and proprietary sources" on 215 million consumers.
The Privacy Act of 1974 banned federal agencies from collecting personal information about individuals unless they are actively investigating the individual. But no such prohibitions apply to database companies.
The companies collect data from a wide range of commercial and government sources, such as credit card records, motor vehicle and property records, license records, marriage and divorce data, bankruptcy and other court databases, product warranty registrations, loan applications and other sources.
Government agencies that buy the information include the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, according to EPIC.
Dr. Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize winner for excellence in economics, said in various letters: "I certainly commend you for the Grandfather Report and for the imaginative way in which you have displayed data highly relevant to very important issues. I am impressed. Your objective is one I fully endorse. Your charts and analyses are excellent. Very well done. I congratulate you and applaud your continuing effort."