On March 19, 2007, my website, Speaking Truth To Power at www.carolynbaker.org, featured an article written by me entitled “Godfather Government: A Way Of Life Is Not A Scandal” in which I quoted Greg Palast regarding Choicepoint, a controversial data-gathering company and its spurious practices in relation to the 2000 election, its connection with the Republican party, and its information gathering and dispensing services with regard to individuals and organizations. The following day, I received an email from Chuck Jones, Choicepoint’s Director of External Affairs who stated:
Ms. Baker –
ChoicePoint must correct several inaccuracies contained in your blog (“Godfather Government”) which is posted on your own Web site and which is now also posted elsewhere. We respectfully request that you post our response on your Web site. We are making the same request of the editors of any other Web site where we find your column has been posted.
In your blog, while you reference writer Greg Palast, you make the declarative statement that ChoicePoint is “an enormous data-gathering empire which helped rig the 2000 election and has more recently been deeply involved in assisting the National Security Agency in spying on innocent American citizens.”
These assertions are inaccurate because they are not true.
First of all, there are any number of myths about modern American politics and one of the more obviously false is the one surrounding ChoicePoint and its alleged role in the 2000 presidential election. ChoicePoint was not involved in the 2000 election and has never been involved in any election in any country. The confusion arises from the fact that ChoicePoint bought Database Technologies (DBT), a company that was under a publicly bid contract to review Florida voter registration rolls from 1998 through 2000. As an aside and in direct rebuttal to a related myth, the contract DBT was awarded was signed not by Katherine Harris in her capacity as Florida Secretary of State but by Ms. Harris’ predecessor, Sandra Mortham, who occupied that post until 1999.
To be clear, ChoicePoint was not in the voter registration review business before the DBT acquisition and discontinued providing that service after the acquisition. These charges are seven years old and don’t get any more legitimate with age. As to the specifics of what DBT did for the State of Florida, the best source is clearly the U.S. Civil Rights Commission report on the 2000 presidential election, (http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/vote2000/report/ch5.htm) .
You also quote from Palast’s writings in which he consistently seeks to connect ChoicePoint with the Republican party. Again, not true. In fact, ChoicePoint’s president and chief operating officer ranks as one of the leading contributors to the Democratic Party in the Southeastern United States. The campaign contributions of our executives and Board of Directors are a matter of public record and I hope you will personally review them rather than rely on the old, inaccurate characterizations of another writer.
For additional detail on this topic, please review these pages that are posted on ChoicePoint's Web site:
-- "ChoicePoint's Mythical Role in Elections, Past and Present" -- http://www.choicepoint.com/news/statement_08072006.html
-- "The Truth About ChoicePoint, DBT and the 2000 Elections in Florida" -- http://www.choicepoint.com/news/2000election.html
Secondly, ChoicePoint does not sell or license, in bulk or wholesale, its consumer information databases to any state, local or federal agency. Further, in the context of the NSA publicity, ChoicePoint does not provide what has been called ‘data mining’ services nor do we sell or license to the government any technology platforms that can be used to mine or “fish” in a large database of consumer information.
We do, however, make specific information about people, property and businesses available to government agencies on a case-by-case basis, typically to law enforcement investigators. The information is largely government record information or other publicly available information such as published telephone numbers and addresses. Identity information such as Social Security numbers is also available to law enforcement customers. This information is available only when an investigation has been opened or a plausible, potential risk or threat determination has been made by a government agency.
If you ever have a question about what ChoicePoint does or has done, please call us. We will be glad to provide you any information you require.
-- Chuck Jones
Director, External Affairs
We immediately responded to Choicepoint and informed them that we would post their email on this site along with comment regarding any questions we might have about its veracity.
First, let me emphasize that my references to Choicepoint in the article were based on statements by Greg Palast whose research I generally respect and admire. However, upon closer examination of Choicepoint’s email to me and the controversy in which it seems to be permanently embroiled, I soon realized that Palast is hardly the only investigator raising a plethora of disturbing questions about the corporation.
I do not know what Mr. Jones’s definition of being “involved” in an election is, but Choicepoint was clearly “involved” in the 2000 election according to EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Both the Washington Post and EPIC report that Choicepoint’s subsidiary, Database Technologies helped scrub names from the rolls of registered voters in Florida, a reality which Palast has extensively documented. Additionally, Palast has more recently documented Choicepoint’s “involvement” in the 2006 Mexican election.
Choicepoint continues to rant about its non-involvement in elections not only with respect to the Truth To Power website but has done so with other sites, including www.blackboxvoting.org which contains a very interesting post of February, 2006 from Choicepoint and Black Box Voting’s reply.
The criminality to which I referred in my article is thoroughly bi-partisan, and I am less concerned with Choicepoint’s party affiliations than Greg Palast is and much more concerned with its database and information-purveying activities as they pertain to elections and to citizen privacy. EPIC has an extensive web page on Choicepoint’s data gathering and data dispensing activities, and in the light of EPIC’S research, it called for an FTC investigation of Choicepoint. Choicepoint later settled with the FTC for $10 million in civil penalties and $5 million in consumer redress. I strongly recommend a close reading of the aforementioned web page and the documentation contained therein which strongly suggests that Choicepoint is not at all innocent in violating the privacy of Americans with respect to their personal information and property. Additionally, I recommend an article entitled “How Choicepoint serves up your personal info to the FBI.”
If Choicepoint or any other corporation were providing personal information on citizens to the NSA or any other government agency, would it admit doing so? In the light of its spurious activities in the past seven years, why should I or any other citizen find more credible its statements of integrity than the superbly documented research of Greg Palast and Bev Harris of Black Box Voting. For an in-depth analysis of Choicepoint’s subsidiaries and affiliations with data-gathering companies, see “What protects your personal information once it enters e-elections?”