The U.S. Big Brother Awards are given every year to "government agencies and companies that have done the most to invade personal privacy." This year's winner of the Greatest Corporate Invader Award is a company called ChoicePoint, which was also honored with a Lifetime Menace Award. Earlier this year, ChoicePoint, a clearinghouse for all kinds of personal data - names, addresses, Social Security numbers -- had data for 145,000 people stolen by identity thieves posing as legitimate businesses. ChoicePoint database information was actually stolen sometime last fall, but it was only until February that the theft became public, thanks to a California state law which required ChoicePoint to notify its California customers that their infomation "may have been accessed by unauthorized third parties." According to MSNBC, "The Atlanta-based company says it has 10 billion records on individuals and businesses, and sells data to 40 percent of the nation's top 1,000 companies. It also has contracts with 35 government agencies, including several law enforcement agencies."
Information clearinghouses like ChoicePoint are currently not regulated by the federal government, and state government regulation is sporadic. California was the only state that required ChoicePoint to notify customers that their information had been compromised. Initially, ChoicePoint refused to admit that customers outside of California had their information stolen. Fortunately (or unfortunately), it took February's mishap to goad federal lawmakers into writing regulations for businesses that maintain databases of consumer information.
It looks like Orwell was wrong about Big Brother being an instrument of the state. As it turns out, he's an instrument of private business!