Members Only | May 25, 2022 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

ICE is spying on US citizens

Explosive new report details the agency’s data dragnet.


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In the decades following Sept. 11, the growth of the surveillance state has whittled down to their bones the American values of freedom and liberty for the purpose of ensuring security, safety and protection.

It’s long been argued  that the US Department for Homeland Security has morphed into a rogue agency, compromising the freedom and privacy of ordinary Americans, rather than protecting them.

The evidence of this has been mounting.

Now it’s snowballing.

The report’s findings, based on federal Freedom of Information Act requests, depicts an organization prying into millions of people’s lives in a manner extending well beyond the remit of immigration law.

According to a two-year investigation by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has developed a sophisticated dragnet capable of bypassing privacy and data laws to gather data on millions of ordinary Americans.

The report’s findings, based on federal Freedom of Information Act requests, depicts an organization prying into millions of people’s lives in a manner extending well beyond the remit of immigration law.

ICE utilized facial recognition technology to scan photographs of drivers licenses in one in three Americans. If you drive a car, you might be one of the unlucky 70 percent of adults, who’ve been tracked.  

If you have relocated in recent years, or if you have connected utilities to your new home (who doesn’t?), congrats! ICE has probably cataloged the new address into its database – because it can.  

ICE seems capable of finding three in four American adults at any time based on information it’s swept up in its data dragnet. Have you seen Enemy of the State with Will Smith and Gene Hackman? Yeah, that.

For the most part, this is happening in secret, without warrant. 

And it doesn’t stop there. 

ICE has apparently been tapping child welfare records, credit information, department of motor vehicle records, private social media accounts and the housing records of millions of Americans.

The Georgetown report also examines ICE’s spending. Between 2008 and 2021, the agency spent almost $3 billion on surveillance initiatives and data sharing programs. A country struggling to find baby formula might be better off, I dunno, not paying ICE to spy on its own citizens.

The report found that oftentimes, ICE took information from state and local agencies without their being aware of it – imagine that.  

US taxpayers have been handing over personal information to trusted services, which in turn have been penetrated by ICE, which has been harvesting people’s private data – all paid for by US taxpayers.  

Findings suggest the chain of events might have begun at the end of George W. Bush’s tenure. It’s not a left-right issue. It’s an issue. Period.

Most alarming, to my way of thinking, is the allegation that ICE exploits the vulnerability of undocumented migrant children. 

The US Department of Health and Human Services often interview traumatized kids arriving in the US in order to ascertain family members or existing support networks already in the country.

Guess what? 

ICE entered an information sharing agreement with HHS, using the data collected to arrest the family members of those children.  

This program has since been rolled back, but that’s not the point. 

It should never have happened.

Every country has the right to manage its borders. But there’s a humane way to do things without being assholes.  

It’s not exactly a leftwing fever dream to imagine a system, funded to the hilt, calling itself democratic, not exploiting children in order to put their family members behind bars, in the name of the law.

White migrants to the US have historically had the red carpet rolled out. It’s not just history.  President Joe Biden made a grand public gesture in recent weeks of inviting 100,000 Ukrainians to the country.

But most nonwhite migrants who are entering the US are usually fleeing the effects of US imperialism. They’re at the mercy of one of the most repugnant border enforcement agencies on the planet.  

And ICE is greasing the machine.  

The revelations about ICE should be enough to raise alarm bells among “respectable white people” to borrow EB editor John Stoehr’s phrase.  

If not, then the fact that ICE has been caught spying on a huge section of American society surely ought to be enough for ordinary people to demand a real set of checks and balances to reign in the tentacles of the DHS, and the nightmarish agencies under it, such as ICE.

What I want to see is a report on the influence of white supremacy, from individuals and on an ideological level, on agencies like ICE.  

As is the case with so many other federal agencies, one of the reasons ICE is so utterly corrupted, I would bet, is because it’s heavily influenced and operated by the kind of old school decision-makers who are ruining America while making it less safe for everyone.  

Richard Sudan covers human rights and American foreign affairs for the Editorial Board. Based in London, his reporting has appeared in The Guardian, Independent and others. Find him @richardsudan.

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