DOJ inks deal for records access

The Justice Department last month inked a deal with ChoicePoint Inc. to provide federal investigators with online access to a wide array of public documents, which should make it easier and faster to track down suspects and solve cases.

The DOJ contract, worth an estimated $5 million a year over the next three years, will be open to other federal agencies with law enforcement or investigative duties, from the U.S. Secret Service to the offices of inspectors general.

Atlanta-based ChoicePoint runs a program called the CDB Infotek system, which offers a repository of databases with more than 3.5 billion public records online. The data, which come from public records at state, local and federal agencies nationwide, will enable federal investigators to track down assets that might be seized following a criminal conviction or to find fugitives or criminal suspects.

The online access that will be provided through the contract will allow DOJ investigators to pull together detailed profiles of individuals wanted by the law, said O. Edward Johnson, assistant director in charge of telecommunications and enforcement program services in DOJ's Justice Management Division.

CDB Infotek consolidates data that already exists in public files in courthouses and state motor vehicle offices across the nation and that is open to the public and federal investigators. But getting to massive quantities of the data to do a thorough investigation is not always easy. "For most people, it's public information, but not necessarily consolidated," Johnson said.

Officials familiar with the service declined to spell out many of the types of public documents that are included because of security concerns. But the records may range from real estate transactions to birth certificates to any other public document that might help an investigator track down a suspect. ChoicePoint offers its services to businesses as well, as a tool for running background checks on prospective employees.

DOJ had previously contracted with ChoicePoint to provide a similar service, but the contracts had to be renewed annually and brought only about $2 million to $3 million in revenue annually, said Doug Wagoner, the company's public-sector director.

ChoicePoint recently enhanced access to the system to provide service via a dial-up connection or now a World Wide Web interface. "This is all at their fingertips. The data comes back in a matter of seconds," Wagoner said. And for DOJ, faster access to more data means that investigators will have time to work on other projects, Johnson said.

The new pact allows the company to further dig its heels into working with DOJ, Wagoner said.

For example, DOJ and Choice-Point are hoping to integrate the CDB Infotek system more tightly with existing DOJ database applications to make it easier for an investigator using one system, such as the National Crime Information Center system, to pull up extra information on suspects. NCIC is a computer database that contains files on wanted persons, stolen vehicles, stolen articles, stolen or recovered guns and other information.

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