Land grabbing is often linked to illegal deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest. Investigating these crimes in Brazil requires multiple databases spread among dozens of agencies and several government branches. Data is often delayed or even denied due to privacy laws. Data Fixers is getting and organizing these records, writing stories with them and helping news media around the world find their own environmental crime stories. The data is shared for free in two online platforms, Aleph, designed by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), and Google Pinpoint collections. A newsletter is sharing insights about the data in Portuguese. Data Fixers was the first Brazilian project to receive the prestigious Magic Grant from the Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Columbia and Stanford Universities. We received a US$ 100,000 grant to start this project and, since the beginning, in August, more than 80 stories have been published or republished based on our data, including cross border investigations on timber illegal trade between Brazil, US and Europe. Our work has been used by news outlets like The Washington Post, BBC, Al Jazeera, OCCRP and several Brazilian news organisations.
Description of portfolio:
Data Fixers has been gathering public and private data to investigate environmental crimes. It involves environmental fines datasets, expired sanctions, seizures, indigenous people data, rural land property register (CAR), sanction lists, slave labour lists and many other datasets that you can see here. Most of it is being shared both in a Google Spreadsheet link and a Google Collab notebook so any person can check or change the code according to their needs.
Besides the data sharing we are also doing several investigative journalism projects. We would like to highlight two of these projects. The first is an investigative piece published at BBC and The Washington Post, both based on a dataset of environmental fines that have expired in Brazil due to lack of enforcement from the environmental agency (Ibama). We found that data through a FOIA request and then analysed it to find out that many deforestation drivers have found a way to skip these fines by using lawyers. The environmental agency doesn’t have people enough to enforce the fines so impunity has became a rule. The impact of our story was huge – the data we got was later used by the Federal Court of Accounts (TCU), that is now asking Ibama to improve their fine process. The biggest tv station in Brazil, Globo, also published a story based on that report. The Washington Post version also used our dataset and revealed other angles from that problem.
The second story is a 2-month cross border investigation about who are the smugglers behind illegal timber trade between Brazil, US and Europe to produce violin bows around the world. The government was trying to hide their names, but we developed a methodology where we have cross referenced small pieces of information from several government press releases with a dataset that contains names of sanctioned people and companies for environmental crimes. We developed a simple Python code to run those names and see what sanctions those people received. Then we sent several foia requests to get the reports and finally found the names of all the smugglers. It was a scandal- many are famous on that field and sell bows to stores around the world. The story had a good repercussion and we’ve been interviewed by a major tv show in Brazil to explain how we did the project.