Editor’s note: Charles Davidson writes about the Atlanta tech scene on Mondays.How on earth would someone in Liechtenstein, Senegal or South Korea hear of a tiny record label that an Atlanta accountant runs as a sideline business? Or an independent music store in Atlanta’s Virginia-Highlands neighborhood that’s no bigger than a nice apartment?

The Internet, of course. And that’s not all good.

The store, Corner Compact Disc, last year set up an online shop to try and stem business it was losing to the likes of Amazon. But in early 2002, Corner closed its e-tailing operation: too much trouble with overseas buyers using stolen credit cards.

Two Sheds Records, accountant John Graham’s fledgling music label, sells the occasional CD via the Internet. But even Two Sheds, Graham reports, has had a half dozen cases of credit card thieves, mostly from the Far East and Africa, buying CDs of its Atlanta-based alternative rock bands. Graham says he knows of several independent online record sellers that have stopped accepting cards from certain regions outside the United States or Canada.

“I think they probably just surf the Web trying to find places they can buy stuff with stolen credit cards, then sell the stuff on the black market overseas,” Graham says of the miscreants. “Why they’re wasting time buying CDs instead of TVs is beyond me, though.”

“We know you”

ChoicePoint Inc. is based in Alpharetta about 30 miles north of Graham’s loft and Corner’s shop. It’s otherwise very different. ChoicePoint is a publicly traded company that did $632 million in revenue last year.

But ChoicePoint, a spin-off of the credit reporting concern Equifax Inc., is working on technology that might be slightly scary but hugely helpful in blocking the credit card criminals pestering Corner and Two Sheds, and in preventing more serious cases of identify theft.

For the past year and a half, ChoicePoint has been working on biometric authentication technology. This involves things such as fingerprints, facial and iris scans and voice prints. It boils down to storing these identifiers in a data base, then using them to ensure a person is who they say they are when they use a credit card to buy something online, or go online to transfer money from one bank account to another, or even when they try to board a commercial flight.

So far, ChoicePoint does most of its work helping banks, brokerage firms, hazardous material haulers and other companies do background screens of prospective employees. ChoicePoint hopes to help e-commerce firms as they beef up protections against fraudulent purchases, says Mark Peterson, ChoicePoint’s vice president, emerging markets.

Just as some banks now require a thumbprint to cash a check, Peterson and a lot of others think such measures will expand into e-commerce. ChoicePoint, he says, would like to become the “trusted third party” that stores the personal data — fingerprints, voice samples, social security numbers, bank account information, etc. — and shares only the necessary nuggets with online retailers.

ChoicePoint figures to use credit history to help retailers or financial institutions to classify customers based on creditworthiness. A level 9, for instance, might entitle you to buy something on eBay for up to $10,000, while a level 1 shopper might not be able to buy anything more expensive than $100 on credit.

Just as intriguing, ChoicePoint will roll out five to 10 smart-card kiosks over the next few weeks, Peterson says. They’ll go into office buildings or places like airports for security. Someone would walk up to the kiosk, put in their smart card and the information stored in a chip embedded in that card would then travel over a secure Internet link to ChoicePoint’s data bases. ChoicePoint’s systems would then quickly send back a yea or nay to permit someone to enter a part of a building or get on a plane, Peterson says. These sorts of kiosks could eventually be used in airports to be sure passengers boarding planes are using their real identity and check to see if they’re on any sort of wanted list.

Old, reliable fingerprints

For all the futuristic aura surrounding facial scans or voice prints, Peterson says ChoicePoint has found that fingerprints are the more reliable identifier. With face prints, the system can be fooled by someone not wearing their usual glasses, or someone with a new haircut or the lighting in the room. Likewise, voices are unreliable because if someone has a cold or is too close or too far from a microphone entering their sample, it often won’t work, Peterson says.

On the other hand, fingerprints and iris scans, he says, have proven accurate 95 to 96 percent of the time. But there is a problem with iris scans. “People don’t like to put their head up close to a reader and have it shoot a laser into their eye,” Peterson says.

Peterson declines to discuss revenue targets for ChoicePoint’s biometric authentication work. But the company clearly thinks it’s a promising business.