The Controversial Partnership: How a Private Company Enables ICE Surveillance on Migrants

The Controversial Partnership: How a Private Company Enables ICE Surveillance on Migrantswordpress,immigration,surveillance,migrants,controversy,privatecompany,ICE,partnership

Privacy Concerns Raised Over Private Company’s Role in Tracking Migrants for ICE

The Growing Surveillance Apparatus

In recent years, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has faced an influx of migrants arriving in the United States, the agency has shifted its approach from detaining migrants to monitoring them. To aid in this surveillance effort, ICE has increasingly relied on private contractors to develop the technologies used to track migrants. One such contractor, BI Inc., operates a mobile app known as SmartLINK on behalf of ICE. However, recent revelations have raised serious concerns about the privacy and security of the data collected by the app.

Data Collection and Retention

According to public records obtained by the Just Futures Law legal project and shared with CyberScoop, SmartLINK collects a wide range of sensitive information, including personally identifying information, geolocation data, phone numbers of contacts, and vehicle and driver data. Additionally, BI Inc. collects biometric and health data, such as facial images, voice prints, and medical information. This extensive data collection raises significant privacy concerns, particularly considering the uncertain protections regarding how the data is being used and stored.

One alarming discovery from the obtained records is that the data collected by SmartLINK may be retained longer than ICE has publicly stated. The agency’s official statements suggest that data is stored for a specific period, but FOIA records indicate that BI Inc. may retain the data indefinitely. This contradiction raises questions about the transparency and accuracy of ICE‘s public statements regarding data retention.

Potential Misuse of Data and Lack of Oversight

Immigration rights advocates argue that the broad rules surrounding data retention and use may be misused by ICE to monitor immigrant communities. There is concern that ICE‘s partnership with BI Inc. represents an expansion of the agency’s surveillance capabilities, which could lead to increased punitive control over the lives of marginalized communities.

Additionally, ICE‘s relationship with BI Inc. is not an isolated case. The agency has turned to outside contractors, such as data broker LexisNexis, to amass large amounts of data on immigrant communities. This outsourcing of data collection highlights a concerning trend and raises questions about the level of oversight and accountability in the use of this data.

The Impact on Migrants and Communities

ICE promotes its “alternatives to detention” technologies, such as SmartLINK, as a more humane way to track migrants instead of imprisoning them. However, critics argue that participants in these programs report significant mental and physical harm, and their communities often face increased surveillance as a result of the data collection involved.

The lack of clarity surrounding the collection of real-time location data by SmartLINK is particularly troubling. ICE‘s public statements and internal records present contradictory answers regarding the frequency and extent of location tracking. While ICE claims not to “actively monitor” participants’ locations, there are instances where ICE agents have been found to surveil individuals using the app.

The Broader Context of Data Collection and Biometrics

ICE‘s use of private contractors to amass data on immigrant communities is not an isolated incident. The agency’s larger biometrics system, Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART), is expected to include profiles of 270 million individuals, with billions of face images and iris scans. This project has faced criticism for its lack of transparency and potential privacy risks.

The use of biometric data raises specific concerns since it cannot be altered if leaked or misused. The recent announcement of ICE‘s experimentation with a new biometric technology called Veriwatch further raises concerns about the potential expansion of surveillance and privacy violations.

Expert Voices and Call for Transparency

Immigration rights advocates and experts argue that ICE‘s public statements cannot be trusted when it comes to data collection practices, including location tracking. The contradictions between official statements, contracts, and internal records raise significant doubts about the agency’s transparency and accountability.

Hannah Lucal, a data and technology fellow with Just Futures, highlights the need for transparency and details regarding ICE and BI Inc.’s technical capabilities and discretion in turning on continuous location tracking.

Editorial: Protecting Privacy Rights and Ensuring Accountability

The revelations regarding the role of a private company in tracking migrants for ICE underscore the importance of protecting privacy rights and ensuring accountability in government surveillance programs.

Public agencies must be transparent about their data collection practices, including how long data is retained and how it may be used. Furthermore, there must be clear oversight and accountability mechanisms in place to prevent misuse and abuse of collected data.

Collaboration between government agencies and private contractors should be subject to comprehensive legal and ethical frameworks that safeguard individual privacy and prevent the erosion of civil liberties.

Advice: Protecting Your Digital Privacy

In an age of pervasive digital surveillance, protecting your privacy has become a critical concern. Here are a few tips to help safeguard your digital privacy:

Use strong, unique passwords:

Choose passwords that are difficult to guess and different for each online account you have. Consider using a password manager to securely store your passwords.

Enable two-factor authentication:

This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of verification, such as a code sent to your phone, when logging into your accounts.

Be cautious with personal information:

Think twice before sharing personal information online, especially on social media. The more information you provide, the easier it is for it to be used against you or potentially accessed by unauthorized individuals.

Use encryption and secure communication tools:

When communicating sensitive information, use encrypted messaging apps and secure email networks to protect the content of your conversations.

Regularly update and patch your devices:

Keep your operating systems, software, and apps up to date with the latest security patches to protect against known vulnerabilities.

Be aware of your digital footprint:

Regularly review your online presence and settings to ensure you are aware of what information is publicly available about you.

By following these practices, individuals can take proactive steps to enhance their digital privacy and protect themselves from potential privacy violations.


The Controversial Partnership: How a Private Company Enables ICE Surveillance on Migrants
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The image is for illustrative purposes only and does not depict the actual situation.

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