ICE spies on the majority of Americans, despite privacy laws
A new investigation released earlier this month found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, uses a sophisticated and highly invasive surveillance system to spy on the majority of Americans, even in states with strong laws to protect the privacy of their residents.
The discoveries are the result of a two-year investigation by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technologyand report that ICE has created a large-scale surveillance system that touches the lives of millions of ordinary people living in the United States, from undocumented immigrants to US citizens.
According to the report, ICE has driver’s license data from 3 out of 4 adults living in the United States, and scanned at least 1 in 3 adult driver’s licenses with controversial facial recognition technology. ICE has also circumvented privacy laws in states like California, which prohibit the sharing of utility information with immigration authorities, by purchasing hundreds of millions of US utility records from the intermediary of data brokers. In fact, ICE can locate 3 out of 4 adults living in the United States today through their utility records.
Federal law specifically prohibits the government and its intelligence agents (aka spies) from operating on US soil under the National Security Act of 1947. And Congress passed new laws in the 1970s to protect the privacy of Americans after the discovery of political espionage by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA) and the military.
The release of the Georgetown Law report follows reports in late March this year that ICE, a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was using a variety of controversial surveillance actions against immigrants and American citizens, causing concern. with legislators, immigration organizationsand privacy advocates.
ICE has greatly expanded the use of a GPS-enabled smartphone app called SmartLink during the pandemic as a means of tracking immigrants, supposedly to ensure they appear for their immigration court hearings. Nearly 200,000 immigrants were forced to use the app.
SmartLink is manufactured by BI Inc., a Colorado-based subsidiary of private prison company The GEO Group. GEO operates private immigration detention centers for ICE and has been for follow-up several times to lean on cheap and unpaid work by detained immigrants, as well as to be in violation of state laws regarding minimum wage and private prisons in general.
The government says the tracking app, which collects a substantial amount of data from users, is a less intensive alternative to detention for immigrants. However, enforcement is now imposed on a large number of immigrants with no criminal history and who have not been detained. In addition, the vast majority of immigrants show up for their immigration hearingsraising the question of whether the app serves a purpose beyond simply spying on immigrants living in the United States.
Meanwhile, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a law enforcement investigative unit within DHS, “implemented a massive indiscriminate surveillance program that scanned millions of financial records on Americans “. according to Senator Ron Wyden (GOLDEN). HSI has collected more than 6.2 million records since 2019, secretly gathering “an enormous amount of financial records from ordinary Americans” without a warrant, then canceled the program in January 2022 when the senator’s staff requested information. The program was a secret, unknown even to members of Congress, until February 18, 2022; DHS terminated the program days after Senator Wyden’s request for information.
The surveillance program collected money transfers over $500 “to or from” Mexico, Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. DHS had previously obtained these records from the Transaction Records Analysis Center (TRAC), a nonprofit clearinghouse for federal enforcement, staffing, and spending that received information from Western Union and other financial services companies.
However, when an agreement requiring Western Union to share data ended in 2019, HSI began suing financial services companies, demanding that the same information be sent to TRAC. Since TRAC is not a government agency, but a non-profit organization run under the auspices of a state university, there are concerns not only about data privacy and Securitybut also the legal authority of DHS to use customs summons in this way. The National Security Act of 1947 makes specifically illegal for US intelligence agents to operate domestically without a search warrant from a competent federal authority or an order from a court of competent jurisdiction to hear the matter.
As the government continues to tout alternatives to detention, or ATD, advocates warn that the growing number of immigrants placed in ATD programs does not necessarily mean a decrease in the number of imprisoned immigrants, and that the creeping monitoring often does not stop at the border or immigrants.