USA and the UK
ICE Officials are Using a Private Database of Utility Companies to Monitor US Immigration Violators
A private database containing more than 400 million names, addresses and service records from more than 80 utility companies is being used by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers in attempts to pursue those violating immigration rules.
A report published by The Independent has revealed that ICE are using databases from commercial sources to access information which they are not authorized to access on their own.
It is another example of the very real modern-day tactics of immigration enforcement in using commercial databases to access personal information.
The database in question, CLEAR, contains records held by water, gas, electricity, phone, internet and cable TV companies.
According to official CLEAR documents, the database contains billions of records connected to people’s employment status, housing, criminal histories, credit reports and vehicle registrations. This information has been gathered from utility companies across the 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands.
CLEAR is operated by media and data conglomerate, Thomson Reuters, based in Toronto, Canada. Thomson Reuters sells ‘legal investigation software solution’ subscriptions to a wide range of companies and public authorities.
A Way to Pursue Undocumented Immigrants
There has been criticism labelled at ICE over its pursuit and collection of the information.
Nina Wang, policy associate at the Georgetown center, said: “The database offered ICE officers a way to pursue undocumented immigrants who may have tried to stay off the grid by avoiding activities such as getting driver’s licenses but could not live without paying to keep the lights on at home.
There needs to be a line drawn in defence of people’s basic dignity. And when the fear of deportation could endanger their ability to access these basic services, that line is being crossed. It’s a massive betrayal of people’s trust. . . . When you sign up for electricity, you don’t expect them to send US immigration agents to your front door,” Ms Wang added.
Senior campaign organizer at the Latino civil rights group Mijente, Jacinta Gonzalez, said her group is ‘alarmed’ and ‘horrified’ of the speed at which ICE has expanded its surveillance network through exploiting private databases.
Gonzalez said: “People have asked us, ‘How did ICE get my address?’ I’ve never had interactions with the police, I’ve never used this address publicly. It puts people in a tremendously difficult situation. They have to decide whether to have electricity or subject themselves to having ICE get access to this information.”
Departments Involved in Surveillance
Regional purchasing records reveal that the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defence are among some of the American government agencies with ongoing contracts for the use of CLEAR data.
Letters have been sent to the chief executives of Thomson Reuters and Equifax by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, requesting documentary evidence and information on how ICE has used utility data in recent years.
Letters signed by Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., the committee’s vice-chair and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., chairman of the subcommittee on economic and consumer policy said:
“We are concerned that Thomson Reuters’ commercialization of personal and use of data of utility customers and sale of broad access to ICE is an abuse of privacy.”
The letters also said: “We are also concerned that ICE’s use of the database is an abuse of power”.
ICE declined to comment on its ‘investigative techniques, tactics and tools’, citing ‘law-enforcement sensitivities’. Equifax also refused to comment.
ICE has not disclosed how often it has used the database to monitor people, claiming that such information is confidential.
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