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The Big Brother Holding Company

From a posting at Max Speaks, I learn that the US IRS (the tax collectors) have hired a private corporation -- ChoicePoint -- to collect on its behalf demographic and financial information on US taxpayers. If that doesn't scare you, it should. You now have a private corporation collecting information that even the FBI is not allowed to collect on you, and it has the government's seal of approval.

The situation is not made any better by the fact that ChoicePoint was also the company that helped draw up the terrible Florida voters' registers for the 2000 Federal election. As Greg Palast reported at the time:

"A close examination suggests thousands of voters may have lost their right to vote based on a flaw-ridden list that included purported "felons" provided by a private firm with tight Republican ties. Early in the year, the company, ChoicePoint, gave Florida officials a list with the names of 8,000 ex-felons to "scrub" from their list of voters. But it turns out none on the list were guilty of felonies, only misdemeanors."
The company's methods seem to have been both secretive and less than adequate.
"Last year, DBT Online, with which ChoicePoint would soon merge, received the unprecedented contract from the state of Florida to "cleanse" registration lists of ineligible voters -- using information gathering and matching criteria it has refused to disclose, even to local election officials in Florida ... [The ChoicePoint] computer program automatically transformed various forms of a single name. In one case, a voter named "Christine" was identified as a felon based on the conviction of a "Christopher" with the same last name ... ChoicePoint would not respond to queries about its proprietary methods. Nor would the company provide additional verification data to back its fingering certain individuals in the registry purge. One supposed felon on the ChoicePoint list is a local judge."
This certainly wasn't the first timer ChoicePoint had caused problems.
"In January [2000], the state of Pennsylvania terminated a contract with ChoicePoint after discovering the firm had sold citizens' personal profiles to unauthorized individuals."
And this is the company that the IRS is allowing to poke around in your bank accounts and loans!

Of course, all of the information that ChoicePoint collects is automatically available to any government agency that requests it under the Patriot Act. No American company is allowed to refuse access to the FBI or other snoopers to any documents that the company can technically access. This rule has already created a controversy in British Columbia.

Gordon Campbell's Liberal regime -- the branch of the far-right Republican Party that currently rules B.C. -- is urgently seeking to dismantle Canada's public health system, by privatizing large chunks of it. One such chunk is the administration of the B.C. Medical Services Plan, the management of which the regime wants to sell to an American corporation. Local governments, unions and private individuals have all taken a stand against the possibility that the confidential medical records of every British Columbian could end up in US security agency hands. I suspect that, for once, the public outcry is so loud on this that Campbell will eventually find some compromise position.

And talking of outcry, I was pleased to see that so many US cities and States have passed resolutions condemning the Patriot Act. According to this story in WIRED:

"322 municipalities and for States -- Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont -- have Patriot Act resolutions ... They affirm, for the most part, that city employees aiding federal authorities in national security investigations will not violate the rights of people under investigation, such as monitoring political and religious gatherings where people are engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment."
And it is not just wishy-washy liberals who are opposed to this excess of state surveillance:
"Councilwoman Kathy Lantry from St.Paul, Minnesota, where a resolution passed 6-1, took issue with the interpretation that only liberals are behind the movement. "There are many conservative councillors around the country who have stated emphatically that there are many portions of ther Patriot Act that are in direct violation to the way many of us thought we do things in America," she said."
If Bush-Cheney-Ashcroft are re-elected, I wouldn't be surprised to see such councillors locked up as ememy combatants!

June 9, 2004 in Government Intrusion | Permalink


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I wonder if Max Speaks got the story wrong about a fairly innoculous contract (he give no source or link, and cites a "comment made in passing"). For at the ChoicePoint web site we see a press release -- http://www.choicepoint.net/85256B350053E646/0/4E6D4AF2A411A86585256B4F0056B986?Open&Highlight=2,irs -- about an IRS contract they got in which ChoicePoint will basically create a database of public records. I can imagine someone misinterpreting some off-the-cuff comment about this contract as a statement that ChoicePoint can snoop through your _private_ financial information.

Posted by: Peter Caress | Jun 9, 2004 8:43:20 PM