A U.S. Senate subcommittee is looking into data mining, collection and distribution practices by nine companies to find the impact on accountability and privacy with personal information.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-West Virginia), the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, issued letters noting a growing concern over the amount of personal information available online. Rockefeller goes on to mention FTC rulings on the lack of self-regulation among data brokers and some recent personal data breaches.

“Because your industry has monetized consumer data, it is critical that we understand what information companies like yours are already collecting and selling. Yet, answers to basic questions remain elusive,” Sen. Rockefeller wrote.

Vendors that received the letters are Acxiom, Experian, Equifax, TransUnion, Epsilon, Reed Elsevier (LexisNexis), Datalogix, Rapleaf and Spokeo.

In one of the letters, to Acxiom President and CEO Scott Howe dated Oct. 9, Rockefeller outlines 12 primary questions on the mechanism and methods in place over the last few years to collect data, and how that information is then shared with third-party brokers. Rockefeller requested a response to these questions by Nov. 2.

Howe, in a statement to Information-Management.com, said: “Acxiom looks forward to continuing to work with the Congress to help the members gain a deeper understanding of Acxiom’s business and how people and the economy benefit from the appropriate use of data.”

A splash banner on Acxiom’s Web site Friday led to a report on what the vendor does with marketing data and how it is “searching for balance” with the use of personal information.
Data collection and mining efforts have trickled up to the attention of different levels of the federal government in recent years as the technology and methods have become more sophisticated.

In June 2011, the Supreme Court overturned a ban on data mining related to the collection and sale of physicians’ prescription drug recipients. There have also been concerns raised of late over Google’s amount of tracking and personal information collected by Facebook in the light of its recent partnership with Datalogix.

Separately on Friday, Rockefeller urged for Congressional action on cybersecurity legislation in the wake of recent caution voiced by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta regarding hacker attacks on the U.S. Rockefeller previously co-sponsored legislation on cybersecurity standards and incentives for infrastructure, transportation and financial systems that stalled in Congress.

Justin Kern is senior editor at Information Management, a sister publication of Health Data Management.

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