ChoicePoint, Inc., a data-processing firm, is selling government data bases on residents of 10 Latin American nations to the U.S. government, allowing them to track immigrants entering or living in this country ChoicePoint is notorious for purging Black and Latino voters in Florida to help George W. Bush steal the 2000 elections.
The Justice Department (DOJ) has signed a $67 million contract with ChoicePoint to provide the FBI, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies with access to ChoicePoint’s 13 billion files.
The FBI paid ChoicePoint $8 million for dossiers on almost every adult living in the United States. The Atlanta-based firm, with a market value of $2.5 billion and 2002 revenues of $594 million brags that it has bought the records of residents of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina.
Chris Hoofnagle, deputy counsel at the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), told the World, “This is a question of national sovereignty. Do these nations want another country to have such extensive personal data about their citizens?” In Mexico, ChoicePoint bought the country’s entire voter registry and sells the names, one at a time, to the U.S. government.
ChoicePoint has purchased Colombia’s entire citizen ID database which the Bush administration can buy for $90 per name. “I don’t believe 31 million Colombians authorized that,” Nelson Remolina, a Colombian lawyer and privacy advocate, said.
Hoofnagle pointed out that the 1974 Privacy Act forbids U.S. government agencies from collecting many categories of personal information. “It created an incentive to privatize dossier building, turning it over to private companies,” he said. “Thirty years ago the FBI would have to follow you around to find this information. Now they download it from the ChoicePoint web site.”
The EPIC website (www.epic.org) features an internal DOJ memo containing a ChoicePoint price list for retrieval of records. For example, DOJ agreed to pay $20 for the drivers’ license record of individual Mexicans. But the website also included the price list for information on individuals in Florida, Texas, Georgia, Ohio, and New York. According to the list, DOJ would pay ChoicePoint only $2.00 per name for voter registration records in Texas.
Hoofnagle pointed out that the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness Program (TIAP), headed by Adm. John Poindexter, convicted for his role in the Iran Contra scandal, has been delayed by legislation authored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore). The legislation gives the Pentagon until mid-May to tell Congress why d this “super-snoop” agency is needed.
“Wyden’s bill slowed it down but it didn’t kill it,” Hoofnagle said. “You can be sure the Pentagon is preparing that report.” But in the meantime, he said, ChoicePoint is collecting much of that same data and selling it to Homeland Security Dept., the Justice Dept., the FBI and the Pentagon. “The more information they have about our personal lives, the more power they have over us.”
Hoofnagle paid $20 to obtain ChoicePoint’s dossier on himself. “They said I was a member of a community organization. They listed me as a ‘high risk’ property owner because I once owned a condo in a building that had a disco in the basement. If you have a predisposition to union organizing, it will be in your file.”
ChoicePoint offers “pre-employment screening” to both private and public sector employers through its Online Job Applicant Personality Profiling System. Baxter Gillespie of ChoicePoints WorkPlace Solutions Group says their TestProfiles provides employers with a speedy, cost effective way to make smarter hiring decisions.”
Jay Stanley, a specialist on privacy rights for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the World the ChoicePoint contract reveals the dangers of allowing unaccountable corporations to assemble electronic dossiers on millions of people. “The technology is moving so quickly it allows for end runs around privacy laws and the U.S. Constitution.”
The lush federal contracts are a Bush administration payback for ChoicePoint’s central role in the 2000 election when Florida Sec. of State Katherine Harris, on orders from Gov. Jeb Bush, paid a ChoicePoint subsidiary, Data Base Technologies (DBT) of Boca Raton $2.3 million to purge the state’s voter rolls. ChoicePoint-DBT, dominated by rightwing Republican extremists like former Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber, billionaire Ken Langone, and Home Depot CEO Bernard Marcus, prepared a list of 66,000 voters, predominantly Black and Latino, for removal from Florida’s voting rolls mostly on spurious grounds they were ex-convicts.
Greg Palast, an American writing for The Observer of London, revealed that 8,000 of those “ex-cons” had moved to Florida from Texas and had committed “nothing more serious than misdemeanors such as drunk driving (like their governor, George W. Bush).”
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