ChoicePoint overhaul falls behind

Changes at the data broker to prevent Americans' personal data from getting into the wrong hands are taking longer than planned.

ChoicePoint, the data broker that leaked the personal information of 145,000 Americans, has gone off schedule in its efforts to prevent such a breach happening again.

In early March, the company announced it would exit some parts of the personal data business and that it would sell information only in situations where specific criteria are met. The transition would be "substantially completed" within 90 days, ChoicePoint said at the time. That schedule would mean the effort would be done about early June.

On Friday, ChoicePoint spokeswoman Kristen McCaughan said the Alpharetta, Ga.-based data broker has not yet completed the changes. "It is ongoing," she said. McCaughan could not say when ChoicePoint expects to be able to announce that it has completed the process. "I don't think it is going to be anytime in the near future," she said.

The announcement of the overhaul in March came a month after ChoicePoint had revealed that scam artists had gotten access to personal data on tens of thousands of Americans, resulting in at least 750 cases of identity theft. The scandal has prompted calls for new legislation to protect consumers' privacy rights.

As part of the changes, ChoicePoint has said it will no longer sell data to private investigators, debt collectors or businesses such as check-cashing outfits, unless they are associated with an accredited bank. Additionally, ChoicePoint plans to mask sensitive information such as Social Security numbers in its reports.

ChoicePoint also said in March that it would only provide data in three general situations: to support consumer-driven transactions, such as those with insurers or employers, or to provide consumers access to their own data; to provide authentication or fraud-prevention tools; or to assist justice agencies.

One change the company has made, in accordance with federal law, is that consumers can now get a free annual "public records" report. The report can be requested on the company's ChoiceTrust consumer Web site.

The changes are expected to cost ChoicePoint between $15 million and $20 million in sales during 2005 and to reduce earnings per share by 10 cents to 12 cents, the company said in March.

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