Data Collection Scandal Rocks Costa Rica

An executive office compiled and analyzed private personal data from government entities.

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — Costa Rica's presidency has been rocked by federal investigators' search of presidential offices and four high-level resignations, including President Carlos Alvarado's mentor and right-hand man on Wednesday.

At issue is a data analysis unit set up within executive offices that for the past 1 1/2 years has compiled and analyzed private personal data collected from various government entities, ostensibly to aid in shaping public policies. The problem was that the Presidential Unit of Data Analysis had no legal foundation until the government published a Feb. 19 decree creating it and authorizing it to request confidential personal data from other government entities.

There was a public outcry and last week the Attorney General's Office announced that it had opened an investigation into Alvarado and seven officials over alleged misuse of Costa Ricans' personal data. It raided the presidential offices — an unprecedented move in Costa Rica — the planning ministry and the homes of four officials. The government repealed the decree, but the furor continued.

The Attorney General's Office said that Alvarado and others were under investigation for violation of personal data and abuse of authority. It said the unit “had ordered the request of citizens' personal and sensitive data from different institutions and it's believed that Alvarado knew about this.”

Alvarado said last week that he recognized mistakes.

“There was at least an error, a political clumsiness, because that's what it is,” he said.

On Wednesday, the scandal claimed Alvarado's top ally, presidential minister Víctor Morales Mora. Morales, who is the key link between Alvarado and the legislative assembly, resigned after being grilled by that body over the creation of the data unit.

Morales said lawmakers were considering his censure and the situation had made it impossible for him to continue in his job.

“The Legislative Assembly approved and established an investigative committee for those same events, to which I have been called (to appear) and to which I will give the necessary collaboration,” Morales said. He said he would return to the seat in the Legislative Assembly that he had occupied before joining Alvarado's government last year.

Morales' exit followed the resignations of Alvarado's legal adviser, the vice-minister of planning and vice-minister of the treasury.

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