Authorities Investigate Sale of Mexican Voter-Registration List to U.S. Company

Article excerpt

Mexican authorities have launched an investigation into the controversial sale of the list of 65 million Mexican voters to Atlanta-based company ChoicePoint. The US company, which also acquired the list of 6 million registered drivers in Mexico City, compiles a wide range of data for resale to insurance companies, government agencies, and other buyers.

In this case, ChoicePoint acquired the information from an unidentified Mexican seller for resale to the US government. The US agency or agencies that requested the information was not revealed, although ChoicePoint in the past has compiled information for the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which has been renamed the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS).

The Mexico City daily newspaper La Jornada reported that the Pentagon, the Department of Transportation, and the newly formed Department of Homeland Security are also relying increasingly on information provided by ChoicePoint and six other companies for their "anti-terrorism" campaigns.

A US Department of Justice document obtained by the Mexico City daily newspaper Milenio Diario said ChoicePoint has acquired similar information during the past two years from Colombia, Costa Rica, Brazil, and Argentina on behalf of the US government.

Critics say Mexican sovereignty violated

The sale of the voter rolls created an uproar among a wide range of government officials and citizen organizations in Mexico.

Opposition legislators, in particular, criticized the release of private information to a foreign entity. "This is a serious violation of our sovereignty," said federal Deputy Rafael Hernandez of the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD).

Deputy Ranulfo Marquez of the former governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) urged the Fox administration to lodge a vigorous protest with the administration of US President George W. Bush. "The US government acquired the voter rolls illegally, which is not consistent with its stated desire to improve bilateral diplomatic relations with Mexico," said Marquez, who represents the PRI in the elections watchdog agency, the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE).

Legislators like Deputy Arturo Escobar of the Partido Verde Ecologista Mexicano (PVEM) expressed concerns that the release of the voter rolls to an entity outside the electoral process could compromise the July 6 congressional and gubernatorial elections.

But IFE officials said there was almost no chance that anyone could tamper with the voter rolls. "It is important to point out that the voter list is not connected with any public-information network," said IFE counselor Jaime Cardenas. "Therefore, there is no possibility of it being altered by parties outside the IFE."

PRI Sen. Fidel Herrera Beltran said the issue should have been a major topic at the recent summit between Mexican Interior Secretary Santiago Creel Miranda and US Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge in Tijuana in late April.

The meeting was held to review bilateral security measures along the US-Mexico border. The measures are part of the heightened US anti-terrorism campaign implemented in the aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, and the US attack on Iraq in March of this year.

"This is not a case of bringing a complaint or seeking an explanation from the US," said Herrera. "Rather, we need to emphasize to Ridge in an official manner that this voter roll is a confidential instrument and cannot be legally used for any means other than the Mexican elections."

The IFE recently levied a fine of 2.5 million pesos (US$243,000) against the PVEM for improper use of a voter roll obtained from electoral authorities. The PVEM's only violation was to allow an unregistered political party access to the list. …