ICE is exploiting social media and third-party databases to continually widen its surveillance

A recent court case reveals how the agency is weaponizing everything from shared photos to Facebook check-ins.

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement isn’t exactly known for being forthcoming with its arrest tactics. Emails sent by ICE officials have revealed that the unit is using social media surveillance to track and arrest immigrants.

Government-sanctioned stalking — The newly exposed ICE emails, which were presented in federal court in a case of felony illegal reentry, display surveillance to an intense and shocking degree of detail.

After receiving a lead on the case — The Intercept uses the moniker “Sid” to protect the defendant's identity — an official at the Pacific Enforcement Response Center located Sid’s Facebook account, which had been registered under his official name.

The PERC official’s email also stated that he had used Thomson Reuters’ CLEAR network to find Sid’s home address, as well as the address of his parents. The official compared photos posted Sid had posted at his father’s backyard birthday party to Google Maps satellite images and found they matched.

What is CLEAR? — CLEAR, which stands for Consolidated Lead Evaluation and Reporting, is a searchable database containing exorbitant amounts of information on anyone of interest. CLEAR contains addresses, credit scores, cell numbers, utility accounts, and bank account info — basically any piece of data that’s been collected on someone.

CLEAR is run by Thomson Reuters — of Reuters News fame — and, because it’s not operated by the government, it’s often used by ICE to work around legal barriers and obtain information that would otherwise be more difficult to come by. Thomson Reuters, for its part, has assured Reuters employees in the past that the news network is entirely independent of CLEAR’s business.

Free expression with extreme consequences — ICE finally arrested Sid at a Home Depot, after he’d checked in there on Facebook. ICE is constantly broadening the scope of its surveillance, using every workaround possible to locate and arrest its targets. The end results of this aren’t difficult to imagine — though they are difficult to stomach.