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ICE uses data brokers to bypass surveillance restrictions, report finds

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For almost as long as it has existed, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has drawn criticism for the methods by which its agents prosecute and remove undocumented migrants. But a new report released on Tuesday sheds new light on how much the agency has expanded its home surveillance device during its 19-year history.

La reportby a group of researchers at the Georgetown Legal Center for Privacy & Technology, paints a picture of an agency capable of accessing the personal information of hundreds of millions of Americans and does so largely irresponsibly through comprehensive agreements with private data providers.

According to details in American Dragnet: Daten-Driven Deportation in the 21st Century, ICE used a combination of public records and privately obtained information to build a surveillance system that can investigate the majority of U.S. adults with little oversight. The agency now has access to the driver’s license data of three-quarters of U.S. adults (74 percent) and has already done a face-to-face scan on the license photos of 1 in 3 adults (32 percent). And when three out of four adults connected services like gas, water and electricity in a new home, ICE was able to automatically update its new address.

“ICE is constantly portraying itself as an agency whose efforts are really focused or targeted, but we don’t see that at all,” said Nina Wang, a political associate at Georgetown Law and co-author of the report. The Edge. “Instead of what we see, ICE has built a vast surveillance infrastructure that is capable of tracking almost anyone seemingly at any time. These initiatives were carried out in almost complete secrecy and impunity, sidestepping restrictions and flying under the radar of most civil servants. And ultimately, these surveillance tactics cross legal and ethical boundaries. “

The report was compiled from the results of hundreds of inquiries sent to state agencies across the country and a review of more than 100,000 ICE spending contracts. In combination, these documents were used to assess the type of information being provided to ICE and the nature of the technology being used to process it.

The results help shed light on the full scope of ICE’s surveillance capabilities for the first time, giving numbers to quantify the scope of programs that have been discovered through previous research by organizations such as the National Immigration Law Center or the ACLU.

Some of the findings add context to surveillance techniques that have already received public attention, such as the use of data by utility companies in immigration enforcement – a practice that has been criticized for its potential to prevent undocumented migrants from enjoying basic services such as electricity and water. , or telephone connections.

The report also highlights the extent to which ICE also obtains data directly and indirectly from government services such as state motor vehicles. Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driving licensesbut the Georgetown report finds that ICE can search through these records without a warrant in at least five of the 17 jurisdictions.

“The massive collection of data from ICE and other law enforcement agencies poses a huge risk and has a frightening effect on people accessing critical public services,” said Zach Ahmad, a senior political adviser to the New York Union Civil Liberties Union. “Our most vulnerable will not be protected from perpetual surveillance, tracking and the threat of arrest or deportation until we bypass fundamental digital privacy protections and give people control over their data.”

While legislators in some states have passed laws restricting ICE’s access to information from government bodies, the immigration agency has often been able to bypass such legislation by contracting with third-party data brokers to obtain the same information indirectly. The report cites a particularly stern example of Oregon: shortly after the state passed a law to prevent ICE from accessing driver’s license data in 2019, Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles signed an agreement to sell data to Thomson Reuters and LexisNexis, both of which provide data services to ICE.

Civil liberties organizations have expressed concern about the danger of public-private surveillance agreements for years, but recently, the role of private companies in monitoring ICE operations has been under increasing scrutiny thanks to the efforts of groups such as the nonprofit Latinx Social Justice. led a push for organizations to conclude contracts with ICE.

The new report outlines “one piece of the massive enigma that is ICE digital surveillance and policing,” said Cinthya Rodriguez, an organizer at Mijente. The Edge. “We call on local governments to investigate and ultimately cut contracts that share our personal information with ICE, which leads to arrest and deportation.”

Canadian media conglomerate Thomson Reuters is one organization that has been paying attention to Mijente’s work and now in the American Dragnet report. Thomson Reuters previously contracted with ICE to provide access to a huge database known as CLEAR, although the contract was allowed to expire in 2021 after the Canadian company faced pressure from activist investors.

In an email sent to The EdgeDave Moran, chief communications officer at Thomson Reuters, confirmed that ICE no longer had access to the CLEAR database but said the media company still had other contracts with the agency.

“Thomson Reuters is engaged by DHS-ICE to support the agency’s investigations into crimes such as terrorism, national security cases, drug trafficking, organized crime, transnational gang activity and human trafficking,” Moran said. “For example, during the Miami Super Bowl, our work with ICE helped police officers rescue more than 20 victims of human trafficking.”

But as a sign of how difficult it is to prevent a federal agency like ICE from accessing private data, the expired Thomson Reuters contract was quickly replaced by a deal with LexisNexis. signed a $ 16.8 million contract with ICE in 2021. The details of the LexisNexis contract reportedly give ICE access to billions of public and private records, including credit history details, license plate pictures and cell phone subscriber information.

A request for comment sent via a LexisNexis media contact form did not receive a response until the time of publication.

Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. “ICE continues to collect data on millions of U.S. data users. It’s been a long time since lawmakers explained that ICE and the police can’t buy their way around the Fourth Amendment,” said Albert Fox Cahn, founder and CEO of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. “You shouldn’t be able to use tax dollars to buy our constitutional rights. And no one should be afraid that they will face deportation simply because they signed up for a household electricity or bought a cell phone.”

Phone calls made to the ICE Office of Public Affairs went unanswered. The agency did not respond to email inquiries sent by The Edge at the time of publication.

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