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LexisNexis Aids Customs and Border Patrol to Flaunt Fourth Amendment

by Anthony W. Accurso

LexisNexis is known by many of Generation X as the provider of education software, but it is actually a data company that has applied its expertise in the controversial realm of human intelligence, according to a contract with Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”).

Advocacy group Just Futures Law obtained a copy of the contract that began in December 2022, exposing a number of products that LexisNexis is providing to U.S. Border Patrol and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, including facial recognition, social media surveillance, and historical geophysical tracking.

“It’s frightening that a rogue agency such as CBP has access to so many powerful technologies at the click of a button,” said Julie Mao, an attorney and co-founder of Just Futures Law. “Unfortunately, this is what LexisNexis appears now to be selling to thousands of police forces across the country. It’s now become a one-stop shop for accessing a range of invasive surveillance tools.”

The databases available include social media posts, “jail booking data, face recognition and geolocation analysis & geographic mapping of cell phones.” The latter is based on the company’s “TraX” software, acquired by LexisNexis in 2004. Though the inner workings of TraX is unclear, marketing materials mention the incorporation of “call detail records obtained through legal process (i.e. search warrant or court order) and third-party device geolocation information” likely purchased from ad-tracking data brokers, as well as the use of “cellular providers’ live pings for geolocation tracking.”

The agency told Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) that it “will not be utilizing commercial telemetry data (“CTD”) after the conclusion of FY23 (September 30, 2023),” referring to location data that would require a search warrant to obtain directly from cellular companies but which the agency claims it is legal to purchase from a data firm like LexisNexis. The agency also told Senator Wyden that it might continue to obtain CTD if it identified “a critical mission need” for it.

The contract also specifies the bundling of access to third-party tools such as “Babel X.” A May 2023 report by Motherboard explained that this product is a massive database comprised of “social media posts, linked IP addresses, employment history, and unique advertising identifiers associated with their mobile phone.” A user can input a piece of data such as a person’s Social Security number and locate all data related to that individual.

Such software could be used to deanonymize other data points, such as social media posts critical about, say, the lack of accountability when police murder unarmed Black men. CBP, whose mission it is to protect the U.S. border, was found to have flown surveillance drones over protesters in Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd and used unmarked vehicles to detain protesters in Portland, Oregon, both actions that were condemned by the ACLU as a “blatant demonstration of unconstitutional authoritarianism.”

A troubled agency such as CBP should not have access to this amount and type of private data on American citizens, permanent residents, refugees and asylum seekers, without being able to justify a search warrant. Allowing continued access to this data risks wanton suppression of rights and disregard for the Constitution.  



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