by Jordan Arizmendi
It seems every month, a new story emerges about how ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) egregiously abuses its power. Just a few weeks ago, Wired published an article about how ICE was improperly demanding data from elementary schools, news organizations, and abortion clinics. A few months before that, headlines detailed how ICE used LexisNexis more than a million times in seven months. Another story from last year covered how ICE accidentally posted the identities of thousands of asylum seekers.
ICE and databases apparently don’t mix well. The latest self-inflicted catastrophe involving ICE has been revealed through an agency disciplinary database that Wired received access to upon a public records request.
Wired reports how ICE has had to investigate 414 of its employees or contractors since 2016 for misusing agency databases. Almost half of those incidents called for an investigation of the Office of Professional Relations, a division specifically used to investigate very serious misconduct.
These ICE agents have the world at their fingertips. ICE’s sprawling network of electronic access includes data sets of federal, state, and local government as well as private organizations. Nina Wang, policy associate at the Center on Privacy & Technology said, “The databases ICE employees can access contain almost everything you might want to find about someone: who they are, where they live, where they drive, and who their family is.”
ICE defends its access to these incredibly powerful and invasive tools by asserting that they need to protect our country from foreign threats. While this may be true, ICE is not able to deny that an alarming number of its agents abuse the powerful tools entrusted to the agency. For example, according to Wired, one special agent in Texas used information from TECS, a confidential government database, to threaten a coworker.
This certainly is not the first time a figure in authority took advantage of the confidential databases at their fingertips, nor will it be the last. A 2016 report from the Associated Press detailed how law enforcement officers across the country regularly use police databases to access personal information on jilted lovers, pesky journalists, odd neighbors, and others with whom they have personal issues unrelated to their official duties.
Emily Tucker, an executive at the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law said, “Calling ICE a rogue agency doesn’t even quite get at how bad the problem is with them. They are always pushing to the limits of what they are allowed to do and fudging around the edges without oversight.”
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