Tuesday October 04, 2022

Report finds that ICE uses data brokers in order to bypass surveillance restrictions

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has been criticised for its methods of pursuing and removing undocumented migrants for almost as long as it has been around. A new report, published Tuesday, sheds new light on how ICE has expanded its domestic surveillance apparatus over its 19-year history. It was criticised for its methods of pursuing and removing undocumented migrants.
American Dragnet: Data-Driven deportation in 21st Century reveals that ICE used a combination private and public records to create a surveillance system that can easily investigate the vast majority of US adults without any oversight. The agency now has access the driver’s license data for three quarters of US adults (74%), and has already done facial recognition scans of the license photos of one third of adults (32%). ICE was able update an address automatically after three out of four adults connected utilities such as gas, water, or electricity to a new residence.
“ICE continually paints itself as an agency whose efforts were really focused or targeted,” Nina Wang, a policy associate from Georgetown Law, said to The Verge. Instead, we are seeing that ICE has built a vast surveillance infrastructure that can track almost anyone at any time. These initiatives were carried out in complete secrecy and impunity, avoiding limitations and staying under the radar for most state officials. These surveillance tactics go beyond legal and ethical boundaries.
The report was compiled using the results of hundreds upon hundreds of Freedom of Information requests to state agencies across the nation and a review over 100,000 ICE spending contracts. These documents were combined to assess the type of information that was made available to ICE as well as the nature of the technology used to process it.
These results provide a clearer picture of ICE’s surveillance capabilities and numbers to quantify programs that have been identified by prior research such as the ACLU or the National Immigration Law Center.
Some of the findings provide context for surveillance techniques that have been previously highlighted, such as the use of data from utility firms in immigration enforcement. This practice has been criticised for its potential to prevent undocumented migrants enjoying basic services like electricity and water.
The report also reveals how ICE can also access data directly or indirectly from government services such as state motor vehicle departments. Currently, 16 states allow undocumented immigrants to apply in driver’s licenses. However, the Georgetown report shows that ICE can search these records without a warrant in at most five of the 17 jurisdictions.
Zach Ahmad, senior policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union, stated that “the mass collection of data ICE and other law enforcement agency poses a tremendous threat and has a chilling affect on people accessing crucial public services.” “Until we adopt fundamental digital privacy protections that give people control of their data, our most vulnerable won’t be protected against perpetual surveillance, tracking, or the threat to arrest or deportation, they won’t be protected.”
While some states have passed laws restricting ICE’s access information from government agencies, the immigration agency has often been able to dodge such legislation by contracting directly with third-party data brokers to get the same information. The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles, which was enacted a law that would prevent ICE access to driver’s license data in 2019, signed an agreement to sell data directly to LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters shortly after passing the law.
Civil liberties groups have been raising concerns about the dangers of public-private surveillance agreements for years. However, recently, the role played by private companies in ICE monitoring operations has come under increasing scrutiny due to efforts of groups like Mijente, a Latinx social justice nonprofit, which has led a push to get organizations to end their contracts with ICE.
The new report outlines “one part of the huge puzzle that is ICE surveillance and policing,” Cinthya Rodro, an organizer at Mijente told The Verge. “We are urging local governments to investigate and cut contracts that share personal information with ICE, leading to detention or deportations.”
Thomson Reuters, a Canadian media conglomerate, has been highlighted by Mijente’s work. Thomson Reuters used to contract with ICE to access a vast database called CLEAR. However, the contract was terminated in 2021 by Thomson Reuters after activist investors pressured the Canadian company.
In an email to The Verge Dave Moran, head communications at Thomson Reuters, confirmed to The Verge that ICE no more had access to the CLEAR database, but stated that the media company still had other contracts with the agency.
Moran stated that Thomson Reuters was engaged by DHSICE to support agency investigations involving crimes like terrorism, national security and organized crime, transnational gang activity, human trafficking, and narcotics smuggling. “For example, during Miami Super Bowl, our cooperation with ICE helped law enforcement officials to save over 20 victims of human trafficking.”
The Thomson Reuters contract expired in April. This is a sign of how difficult it can be to prevent ICE from accessing private information. A LexisNexis deal was quickly signed, and ICE signed a $16.8million contract with LexisNexis in 2021. According to the LexisNexis contract, ICE has access to billions upon billions of private and public records, including credit history details and license plate images and information about cellular subscribers.
LexisNexis had not responded to a request for comment made through its media contact form.
Privacy advocates hope that the report will bring back discussion about the proper scope of ICE’s involvement in American life. “ICE continues to collect data on millions of Americans through data brokers. It’s time for lawmakers to clarify that ICE or police cannot buy their way around this Fourth Amendment,” stated Albert Fox Cahn (founder and executive director, Surveillance Technology Oversight Project). “You shouldn’t be allowed to use tax dollars in order to buy our Constitutional rights. No one should be afraid of being deported for simply signing up for electricity at home or for buying a cell phone.
Telephone calls to the ICE Office of Public Affairs were not returned. The Verge had not received any email inquiries from the agency at the time of publication.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to Top
%d bloggers like this: