Friday, May 21, 2004

Global Profiling

Author Greg Palast has provided a chilling account of a little known company called ChoicePoint, of Alpharetta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. ChoicePoint is in the business of maintaining an extensive DNA identification database containing millions of samples from citizens of the United States and several foreign countries. Their long-term plans, however, are even grander:

"an insider at ChoicePoint says the chairman told him about a longer-term plan. 'Derek [Smith] said that it is his hope to build a database of DNA samples from every person in the United States,' from birth to death and beyond linked to all other data on a person. The plan, said the source, is for now kept under wraps because Smith expects "resistance" from the public."

Among the troubling revelations of this piece is the role that ChoicePoint played in the 2000 presidential election:

"Before the 2000 election, Choice-Point unit Database Technologies, under a $4 million no-bid contract under the control of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, was paid to identify felons who had illegally registered to vote. The ChoicePoint outfit altogether fingered 94,000 Florida residents. As it turned out, less than 3,000 had a verifiable criminal record; almost everyone on the list had the right to vote. The tens of thousands of "purged" citizens had something in common besides their innocence: The list was, in the majority, made up of African Americans and Hispanics, overwhelmingly Democratic voters. And that determined the race in which Harris named Bush the winner by 537 votes."

What is most troubling about ChoicePoint, and its desire to compile DNA profiles for every living, and some dead, humans, is the propensity for this information to be used for improper purposes. A glimmer of the nefarious possibilities can be ascertained from this observation analysis of "ChoicePoint's contract with Mr. John Ashcroft's Justice Department. A no-bid $67-million deal offered profiles on any citizen in half a dozen nations. The choice of citizens to spy on caught my eye. While the September 11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, ChoicePoint's menu offered records on Venezuelans, Brazilians, Nicaraguans, Argentinians and Mexicans.

What do these nations have in common besides a lack of involvement in the September 11 attacks? Coincidentally, each is in the throes of major electoral contests in which the leading candidates-presidents Luiz Ignacio "Lula" da Silva of Brazil, Nestor Kirchner of Argentina and Mexico City mayor Andres Lopez Obrador-have had the nerve to challenge the globalization demands of George Bush.

When Mexico discovered ChoicePoint had its citizen files, the nation threatened company executives with criminal charges. ChoicePoint protested its innocence and offered to destroy the files of any nation that requests it."

The article continues:

"More disconcerting was a handwritten note in government files recommending ChoicePoint for more work because the company 'is very responsive to [U.S.] Marshals Service and has made enhancements to their public information database to meet our needs.' Uh, oh. If ChoicePoint obtained special info for Big Brother, then officialdom crossed a legal line. As the privacy institute's attorney Chris Hoofnagle explains, the law permits the government to access private databases that are freely available on the commercial market. But private companies may not create wide-ranging files on U.S. citizens for the government. In other words, if the FBI can't spy on Americans without probable cause for suspicion, it can't get around the law by handing the espionage work to a contractor. It's not a small difference. The law in question is the Bill of Rights. Those Amendments prohibit our government from investigating us unless there's reason to believe we are criminals."

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