Can federal agencies turn to private data brokers to collect data on individuals who would normally be protected by local laws?
This issue took center stage at a public hearing in Cook County, Illinois, where rights groups and immigration activists organized and urged lawmakers to investigate. on how the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement allegedly the partners with private data brokers to target undocumented immigrants. Activists say ICE’s siphoning of vast troves of immigrant data from data collectors such as LexisNexis could provide a legal “loophole” for government agencies to bypass the county. sanctuary city immigration laws. These tactics risk threatening the privacy and safety of undocumented people across the country.
Wednesday’s hearing, which Gizmodo participated in, follows the recent to research from a collective of rights groups that have found evidence of ICE working with LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters, well-known data brokers that access and sell criminal justice data. LexisNexis’ wide range of customers include lawyers, financial services companies, insurers, journalists and law enforcement.
According to this report, ICE paid LexisNexis more than $17 million in February 2021 to access its real-time virtual crime platform called Accurint. More recent reporting from The Intercept complaints ICE searched an extensive LexisNexis database of personal information more than 1.2 million times in just seven months period.
Activists say these partnerships are clear attempts to circumvent state and local sanctuary laws that prevent local government groups from cooperating with ICE. Data brokers, activists argue, operate as a sort of middleman. Although the rights groups’ initial report focused on Colorado, it caught the attention of Cook County Commissioner Alma E. Anaya, who call for a survey of ICE’s use of data brokers in April.
“This is a huge loophole in the hard-fought sanctuary laws nationally,” Mijente national organizer Cinthya Rodriguez said during the hearing. “We have seen time and time again how government agencies, blocked by legislation or the constitution itself, attempt to obtain data through third parties like LexisNexis. We know ICE does, we’ve shown it in our research. Now we need answers on how it’s going in Chicago.
In a statement sent to Gizmodo, an ICE spokesperson defended the agency’s position. partnerships and said its LexisNexis contract “complies with all laws, policies and regulations that govern data collection.”
“The contract provides an investigative tool that enables the agency to manage information that assists in law enforcement investigations, including national security and public safety matters, narcotics trafficking, transnational gangs, child exploitation, human smuggling and trafficking, illegal exports of controlled technologies. and weapons, money laundering, financial fraud, cybercrime and intellectual property theft,” the ICE spokesperson said.
Activists warn ICE could use data to create ‘target list’ of undocumented immigrants
The supposed data in question is vast. Experts testifying at the hearing spoke in depth about ICE’s access to “real-time incarceration data,” siphoned from prisons and repackaged for purchase by LexisNexis. This could include data from courthouses and traffic, as well as rental and utility data. Indeed, experts have warned that ICE could gain access to individuals’ citizenship status, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers and more. Rights groups have warned that ICE could theoretically use this data to locate and ultimately deport undocumented people. An expert speaking at the hearing pointed to ICE’s access to driver’s license data as a potential avenue for targeting. By simply knowing whether or not an individual had a temporary permit (an attribute indicative of an undocumented person), the expert said ICE officers could then allow us to create a “target list” of people potentially expellable in the county.
“ICE circumventing policies meant to protect immigrants by accessing our personal information through data brokers is another example of how immigrants continue to be targeted and dehumanized,” said Defense Coordinator Karina Suarez Solano. against the eviction of the communities organized against the evictions in a press release. “This violation of privacy and well-being is unacceptable to anyone who values and practices consent. Our communities deserve safety, and real safety does not come in the form of surveillance and criminalization.
A speaker, who identified as an immigrant, said she looked at about 43 pages of data ICE had collected on her, which she called “extremely disturbing.” This would have included the individuals’ past and current addresses, their mortgage and social security numbers, and the names of 27 different people living in that individual’s apartment building.
LexisNexis did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
Activists who have played a role in fighting for Illinois’ current sanctuary laws have warned that this alleged circumvention of data restrictions by ICE could jeopardize the validity of those laws.
“The county cannot fulfill the purpose of these policies, and county residents cannot truly feel safe, unless we make sure that county information is secure and will not fall into the hands of third parties who will sell access to those who seek to harm our families and communities,” said Fred Tsao, Senior Policy Council of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Local officials representing the county jail and the sheriff’s office acknowledged using LexisNexis, but said they were unaware of data sharing with brokers that would violate local laws. On several occasions, officials have claimed the data provided to LexisNexis was either “anonymized” or “aggregated”.
The Cook County hearing comes amid growing pressure from activists and lawmakers for LexisNexis to terminate its contracts with ICE. Anaya, the Cook Country Commissioner responsible for the hearing, previously Told La Colline, she expects this week’s hearing “to set an example for other jurisdictions.” Thomson Reuters has since said it will exam its contracts with ICE.
On the legislative side, a bipartisan group of senators led by Oregonby Ron Wyden and Ron Paul of Kentucky introhfromceded it The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Acyou that would attempt to restrict the ability of data brokers to sell information to law enforcement. If passed, Wyden says the bill could fill the “legal loophole” mentioned during the Cook County hearings.
“Doing business online is not about giving the government permission to track your every move or dig into the most personal details of your life,” Wyden said in a statement. “There’s no reason information retrieved by data brokers should be treated any differently than the same data held by your phone company or email provider.”