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2003-05-07

U.S. Is Buying Data On Foreign Citizens–and ChoicePoint Is Selling It

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Governments across Latin America have launched investigations after it has been revealed that a US company is obtaining personal information on millions of citizens in the region and selling it to the Bush administration.

The London Guardian reports that documents show the company, ChoicePoint, received well over $10 million last year in return for the information. The information includes Mexico’s entire list of voters, including dates of birth and passport numbers, as well as Colombia’s citizen identification database.

ChoicePoint’s advertisements for the Justice Department promised, for example, to deliver a "national registry file of all adult Colombians, including date and place of birth, gender, parentage, physical description, marital status, passport number, and registered profession".

But it is illegal under Colombian law for government agencies to disclose this information, unless it is in response to a request for data on a named individual.

Our listeners and viewers may remember ChoicePoint from the contested 2000 election. The state of Florida hired a subsidiary of ChoicePoint, Database Technologies, to remove convicted felons from the state’s voter registration lists. BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast revealed the company disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters, most of whom were poor, and black. Thousands of people were scrubbed from the voter roles simply because their names resembled the names of felons.

  • Robert Ellis Smith, publisher of Privacy Journal. He is also a journalist and author of several books on privacy issues including War Stories: Accounts of Persons Victimized by Invasions of Privacy.

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