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Another empty seat at the awards show

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The local information-vending company linked to ballot irregularities in Florida during last year's election has been presented with an award by an international organization dedicated to preserving individual privacy.

But it's unlikely that this particular "honor" will find its way into the corporate trophy case at the Alpharetta headquarters of ChoicePoint, one of the world's leading data-mining companies. Privacy International, which recently released its 2001 U.S. Big Brother Awards recognizing outstanding efforts to invade personal privacy, bestowed its "Greatest Corporate Invader" award to ChoicePoint in recognition of "massive selling of records, accurate and inaccurate, to cops, direct marketers and election officials."

ChoicePoint earned national notoriety when a subsidiary sold a flawed list of purported felons -- who are ineligible to vote in Florida -- to the Secretary of State's office, which distributed the list to county election offices with instructions to "purge" the rolls of ineligible voters. Unfortunately, the list was wrong.

Although ChoicePoint officials have maintained that no eligible voters were turned away because of the error, the company has been named along with state officials in a federal lawsuit brought by several Florida voters.

ChoicePoint officials could not be reached for comment.

Other recipients of this year's Orwell Award -- a sculpture of a bronze military-style boot stepping on a man's head -- include the FBI's "Carnivore" electronic monitoring program for "Most Invasive Proposal"; the city of Tampa, Fla., whose videotaping of every attendee at the Super Bowl earned "Worst Public Official" plaudits; and a "Lifetime Menace Award" presented to the U.S. National Security Agency for "50 years of spying" on the public.

The Orwell Awards are named for author George Orwell, whose 1984

warned of technological authoritarianism run amok.

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