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Kerry Packer Is Planning To Watch You!

A huge computer database containing the personal and financial details of almost every Australian is being constructed for Kerry Packer's PBL company and will be operational by Christmas. John Howard reports.

The "warehouse" database will contain information from a diverse range of sources, including credit companies, retailers, electoral rolls, post office lists, car sales records and housing purchase records.

It will also be fed information from a range of other PBL sources including Channel Nine, ninemsn, Crown Casino and Ticketek.

The power of the warehouse database, being constructed by the US company Acxiom, comes from its ability to cross-reference information from many different sources.

Detailed personal records therefore can be built up on anyone in the country.

Its existence has prompted expressions of concern from the Australian Consumers Association. (ACA)

ACA senior policy officer Charles Britton said it was "very scary" to think so much information would be stored in a single place.

"Most people would be unaware that all this data about them is being held by a single private company," he said.

Access to the warehouse, called InfoBase, will be offered to companies seeking to focus their activities to learn more about their customers.

Acxiom Australia chief executive Andrew Robb said the massive database was being populated now. "A bank could have very rich data but it has a narrow focus. If you can combine it with, say, lifestyle data, it becomes much more valuable," he said.

Running on a series of Compaq Alpha servers, the database warehouse uses Oracle software. Initially containing more than 15 million records, the database will constantly grow in size and complexity.

In the US, Acxiom has established what it claims is the world's largest database, which holds personal details on 95 percent of all US households or some 330 million people.

Acxiom international division head Jerry Ellis said the company's clients could access this vast information reserve and pull out records in seconds.

"This is very powerful stuff," Mr Ellis said.

A clients computer can recognise an incoming telephone number, query InfoBase, and provide a full profile on the customer before the call is answered.

They will know a caller's income, credit rating, number of children and how many cars they own before they answer an incoming call.

Although relatively unknown in Australia or New Zealand, Acxiom is a US$2.5 billion company with more than 450 corporate clients, including IBM, American Express, Wal-Mart and AT&T.

Meanwhile, the Federal Parliament has passed laws that allows the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to tap into and alter data on private computer systems.

The ASIO Amendment Bill 1999 has passed the Senate giving federal authorities the power to tap into private computer systems for surveillance purposes. This is the first time in 13 years a major change has been made to the ASIO Act 1979.

The Australian Labour Party has expressed concern that the law allows ASIO to add, delete, or alter data, on remote computers. The Democrats have said the law could be intentionally misused to plant evidence. Privacy Groups are furious.

I know, I know - if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to be afraid of, I hear you say.

Well, do you have curtains at home? Of course you do. Then why do you close them at night, you've got nothing to hide - have you? For privacy, you exclaim - exactly!

If you like living in a rabbit hutch environment you probably won't mind all this - but don't ever close those curtains at night, will you.


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