United States Homeland Security Agency Abuses Personal Data


A number of allegations have hit the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), claiming that the agency abuses personal data access. The allegations are of utmost concern to anyone living in the US considering how ICE currently has data on all U.S. residents, and this information is being used at the agency’s discretion at any time. It is important to bear in mind that ICE operates at a local, state and federal level, therefore, their control is widespread across the country. A study published on April 17 in WIRED Magazine discloses how agents abuse their access to personal data. 

 What is ICE? 

According to the official site of U.S. Immigration and customs enforcement (ICE), the agency “was created in 2003 through a merger of the investigative and interior enforcement elements of the former U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.” Additionally, the site notes that “ICE now has more than 20,000 law enforcement and support personnel in more than 400 offices in the United States and around the world.” The agency falls under the Department of Homeland Security. As to domestic issues, they deal with immigration enforcement and securing the border, but also cover cyber and financial crime. However, the agency does not only just cover domestic affairs. The institution has a division that focuses on combating transnational crime. The same division also works to prevent terrorism and uphold fairness in global trade. 

How do agents abuse their access to data? 

In the report published by WIRED Magazine, it was found that police officers had used the ICE databases to gather information on their neighbors, business associates, potential dates, partners and anyone they wanted to gather background information on. What are supposed to be confidential databases are allegedly being used for personal matters.

The WIRED report also states how the misuse of these databases went to the extent of using medical, biometric and location data to unlawfully search or disclose sensitive information. Some examples of unlawful acts that have been committed are a Virginia deportation officer altering electronic records to assist a family member and an ICE attorney who stealing immigrants’ identities in an attempt to defraud credit card companies.

Is this the first time that allegations have been made? 

The biggest report so far was published in 2022 by Georgetown Univeristy’s Center on Privacy and Technology titled “American Dragnet: Data-Driven Deportation in the 21st Century.” The report alleges how ICE had turned into a surveillance agency that focuses on gathering data for the government to use and have at its disposal. It was also stated that “ICE has pushed ethical and legal boundaries to build a surveillance dragnet that covers most Americans by bypassing Congressional oversight and privacy laws.” Some other allegations were made even before 2022, as the same report commented on how the abuse of data is not new. The Center on Privacy and Technology Law spent two years looking into the matter before publishing.

Additionally, another study was published by The Global Times that states that “the earliest records obtained by the Center on Privacy & Technology suggested that ICE began requesting and using face recognition searches on state and local data sets in 2014.” 

The issue has been ongoing for almost 10 years now, however, it has been denounced by various newspapers and by private institutions such as Georgetown University. There are now enough allegations to understand how dangerous the matter may be. 

Emily Tucker, the executive director at The Center on Privacy and Technology Law Center, has called ICE a “rogue agency.” The very same agency that had the task of ensuring national security is the one putting citizens’ lives at peril by using their data and information without their knowledge. 

The consequences

The actions that plan to be taken to act against these serious allegations against the federal agency have not been made public yet. The only action that has been disclosed is an investigation that is being carried out by the Office of Professional Relations (OPR), a division responsible for investigating allegations of serious misconduct, both criminal and non-criminal. Possible disciplinary measures for employees that have committed unlawful acts are still also currently unknown to the public. 

Cover image by: The Global Times

Gabriela Gorodi
Gabriela Gorodi
Hey! I´m Gaby, I am a third-year law and international relations student with a passion for writing. My interests go from writing about international conflict to issues closer to our daily life that may be of interest. I was born in Spain however I grew up abroad and love learning about different cultures, traditions, and countries. Everyone has a story to share and I think that's pretty unique.

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