U.S. government purchase data on Mexico’s 65 million registered Voters

Sale of Mexican voter data raises storm

 Story by : CR Staff

05/01/03: (Guadalajara Reporter) A probe has been launched into how the Atlanta-based corporation ChoicePoint Inc. was able to purchase data on Mexico’s 65 million registered voters as well as six million licensed drivers in Mexico City.

According to an investigation carried out by the Mexico City newspaper Milenio, ChoicePoint was commissioned by the U.S. government to obtain the data.

Mexican legislators want President Vicente Fox to ask his U.S. counterpart for what reason the U.S. government needs this confidential information.

ChoicePoint is the only data-gathering company that specializes in acquiring information on foreign nationals in general and Latinos in particular.

According to Milenio, low-ranking Mexican government employees routinely sell electronic information to data-gathering groups in a clandestine manner and pocket the proceeds.
ChoicePoint also offers information on 90 percent of large corporations operating in Mexico, disclosing data on names of leading executives, phone numbers, electronic systems and levels of capitalization.

This surveillance of Latin Americans began September 25, 2001, exactly two weeks after the terrorist attacks. On that date the U.S. Department of Justice awarded ChoicePoint a 67-million dollar contract for providing information on Mexico and other Latin countries. Though the contract expires July 31, 2005, the government enriched Choice-Point to the tune of another 11 million dollars on April 8, 2002.

James Lee, a spokesman for the company, defended ChoicePoint's activities on grounds that its data-gathering was a valuable tool in the fight against terrorism and organized crime. Lee declared that information obtained by his company "can be used in any type of criminal investigation, whether it involves terrorism or some other type of crime. It is useful in identifying suspicious individuals and in some cases it can even pinpoint their whereabouts."

These protestations fell on deaf ears in Mexico. Raul Carranca, a well-known jurist, said that ChoicePoint's purchase of names in the Federal Electoral Register and of drivers' licenses constituted an invasion of Mexico's sovereignty. He added that under the Federal Penal Code an offender could receive up to 12 years in prison for damaging, destroying or illegally extracting data from a government informational system for reasons of personal gain.

Particularly biting were the comments of columnist Marcela Gomez Zalce. In Acentos, her widely-read column, Gomez Zalce expressed the opinion that data obtained by ChoicePoint would end up in the hands of the CIA, FBI and DEA. As for the protestations of such parliamentary groups as National Action Party and the formerly ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that they would move toward protecting the privacy of Mexicans, she said that this was a classic case of covering the well after the baby has drowned -- Spanish version of "locking the stable door after the horse has been stolen."

In addition to Mexico, ChoicePoint's shadow has fallen over Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. However, the company has discontinued its role in Argentina, due to lack of demand and a strict new law relating to privacy.


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