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Senators: ICE Should Stop ‘Orwellian Data Gathering’

September 13, 2022 by Madeline Hughes
Senators: ICE Should Stop ‘Orwellian Data Gathering’
U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — Senators are urging the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to shut down its “Orwellian data-gathering efforts,” according to a letter sent by Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Tuesday.

The senators reference multiple reports, including one published by Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology, detailing how the law enforcement agency buys publicly available data from data brokers to combine it with other databases. The report stated ICE has access to 75% of drivers’ licenses and has scanned the photo of a third of adults using that information.

The information gathered is on residents with all types of immigration status ranging from natural-born Americans to undocumented migrants. The agency has used this information to track and deport these undocumented individuals, according to Georgetown Law Center’s report.

The agency “indiscriminately collect(s) far too much data on far too many individuals,” the Democratic senators wrote to Acting Director Tae D. Johnson.

They laid out reports of how a vast amount of information the agency uses is gathered without knowledge from those put into the database, and even some of the entities giving information to the agency.

The state of Maryland was one of those entities giving its drivers license database to the agency, unknowingly allowing the agency to deport its residents who had legally obtained driver’s licenses.

The Georgetown Law report cites the 2020 arrest of José Santos Quintero Hernandez of Rockville, Maryland, who was picked up to be deported. The Maryland resident lived in the D.C. suburbs for about 17 years with his wife and five children without any interaction with law enforcement. And after the state approved undocumented immigrants could apply for a drivers’ license, he did.

“As the Georgetown Law Center report concluded, the manner in which ICE leverages information against its targets is especially troubling: ‘To locate its targets, ICE takes data that people give to state and local agencies and institutions in exchange for essential services. ICE often accesses that data without the permission or even awareness of the entity that originally collected the information,’” the senators wrote. “These practices raise serious concerns and questions about how ICE surveils the public and avoids key accountability systems.”

They ask a series of 13 questions in the letter asking how extensive their database is, and from where the agency gets its information.

“Please identify any data brokers with whom ICE currently contracts, the terms of those agreements, the types of information ICE accesses through them and the conditions under which this data is accessed, and the number of individuals whose personal information ICE has obtained,” the senators wrote.

They also ask the agency to stop purchasing data from a variety of brokers, including geolocation information.

The senators asked the agency “to end its use of technologies and surveillance tactics that threaten the privacy rights of individuals all across the United States,” in their Tuesday letter.

There’s been increasing concern over how law enforcement across the country, including ICE, uses this information procured from data brokers, which caused Markey and Wyden to co-sponsor the bipartisan The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act in 2021, which currently has the support of three Republicans, 17 Democrats and Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The law has yet to pass through any chamber. If it passed, it would bar ICE and other law enforcement from buying this data, getting around the need to secure a warrant.

Johnson is expected to return the senator’s letter and answer the questions by Oct. 3.

Madeline can be reached at maddie@thewellnews.com and @ByMaddieHughes

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