Senators call on ICE to restrict ‘Orwellian’ use of facial recognition and surveillance technology


Written by Nihal Krishan

Democratic senators on Tuesday called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop using facial recognition and surveillance technology and end the purchase of private information from data brokers.

In a letter sent to the agency’s acting director, Tae Johnson, Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Ron Wyden, D-OR., cite a Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology investigation into the use of data for immigration enforcement. The study found that ICE over the past decade has gained access to driver’s license and home address information for three-quarters of US citizens.

The missive is the latest example of Congress seeking to curb the purchase of Americans’ personal data by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Last month, House leaders sent a letter to US law enforcement agencies probing their purchases of private datasets to circumvent warrant requirements.

“According to a recent report, ICE used facial recognition and other technologies, and purchased information from data brokers, to build a ‘surveillance system’ that helps ICE carry out investigation procedures. ‘expulsion,” the senators wrote in the letter.

“Much of this effort, which allowed ICE to obtain detailed information about the vast majority of people living in the United States, was shrouded in secrecy,” the senators added.

The Georgetown investigation was conducted by submitting hundreds of freedom of information requests and conducting a comprehensive review of ICE’s contracting and procurement records.

The lawmakers’ missive comes after documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this year revealed that a partnership with a data broker gave ICE access to location data of about 250 million people. mobile devices. In total, the partnership allowed the agency to access more than 15 billion location points per day.

These documents from the ACLU in July showed how millions of taxpayer dollars were spent by the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to buy access to cell phone location information aggregated and sold by two brokers in controversial and opaque data under contract with the government, Venntel and Babel Street.

“This surveillance network has exploited privacy loopholes and has enormous civil rights implications,” the senators wrote in their letter to Johnson. “ICE should immediately halt its Orwellian data collection efforts that indiscriminately collect far too much data on far too many individuals.”

‘The Fourth Amendment Law is not for sale,’ presented by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY., in April 2021, sought to force police and certain federal agencies to obtain a court order before purchasing individuals’ personal information through third-party data brokers.


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