back to article How ICE became a $2.8b domestic surveillance agency

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has spent about $2.8 billion over the past 14 years on a massive surveillance "dragnet" that uses big data and facial-recognition technology to secretly spy on most Americans, according to a report from Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology. The research took …

  1. Snowy Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Data brokers

    They are the ones that need to be regulated.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Data brokers

      Apparently, it's the Government that needs to be regulated.

  2. innominatus

    T&Cs

    The cheek of it. They've not even asked the data subjects to sign up to thousands of words policy statements to give away their rights in the first place. Unlike those nice tech giants

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Fourth Amendment

    We've heard of that.

    Anyone who objects must be a terrorist, therefore the searches are reasonable.

    Citizens should be thanking us for saving them.

    1. stiine Silver badge

      Re: The Fourth Amendment

      Don't forget, every international airport is also a US border, and therefore they can apply border policies with 100 miles of these airports.... fuckers.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Fourth Amendment

        Don't forget, technically every American (except native ones) is n-generation immigrant, so fair game for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency...

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Every day, in every way,

    I feel I'm living in TomClancyWorld[tm].

    It's starting to get worrying.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Trying not to contribute to those tax dollars

    I've made sure not to visit the USA this century because of such overreach. Mind, due to overreach, I'm sure the ICE gets information on me when I visit Canada.

    1. Jaybus

      Re: Trying not to contribute to those tax dollars

      Canada sending them data too? Well, a mutual data swap would not surprise me. It was quite interesting that the Canadian government was able to block the exchange of bitcoins that US citizens donated to the Freedom Convoy truckers.

      1. mevets

        Re: Trying not to contribute to those tax dollars

        I would be cautious about where you draw dots. Bitcoin is far more traceable than third country transfers, cash, or precious metal exchanges. The draw for crime isn't about trace, its about control; as in freezing assets.

      2. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Trying not to contribute to those tax dollars

        "It was quite interesting that the Canadian government was able to block the exchange of bitcoins that US citizens donated to the Freedom Convoy truckers."

        Why does that surprise you? When it was available to the people that Canada didn't want to have it, it was in Canada. Where it started wasn't very related since it got there. Also, I only saw cryptocurrency being frozen at exchanges, so a direct transfer would probably have worked. I'm curious what part you found interesting, as both aspects seem predictable and ordinary to me.

  6. Death Boffin
    FAIL

    The E in ICE?

    So what are they using this information for? It's certainly not for deporting illegal aliens.

    1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

      Re: The E in ICE?

      According to ICE’s annual report for fiscal 2021 [PDF], 59,011 non-US citizens were deported (“removed” in immigration legalese) from the US in fiscal 2021. Historical comparisons to removals in other fiscal years can be found here; large numbers of deportations seem to have started during the second Clinton administration.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The E in ICE?

      From what we've seen around the world, the first use of surveillance capabilities is to surveil those who object to surveillance.

    3. ThatOne Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: The E in ICE?

      > It's certainly not for deporting illegal aliens.

      Indeed. Deporting illegal aliens is The Men in Black's job.

  7. LDS Silver badge

    Fixing the civil registry would have costed less...

    It's funny that they are trying to solve a problem this way where fixing their outdated civil registry system would help a lot. In other countries getting a driving license without the required stay permit is not so easy. Even utility bills could be an issue (of course people renting houses illegally can still have bills in their names or using front people).

    It would also make voting in the US a far less cumbersome system - people would be automatically enrolled to vote, without local governments able to try to disenfranchise them, while people won't be able to vote more than once or try to play other tricks.

    But the norm in US now looks to never think this is the XXI century but trying to keep outdated XIX or maybe even XVIII systems in place and then build atop it cumbersome, costly, stupid and often illegal solutions...

    1. the Jim bloke Silver badge

      Re: Fixing the civil registry would have costed less...

      They need some visionary to drag them, kicking and screaming, into the century of the fruitbat...

      *need a Sir Pterry icon*

      1. Kane Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Fixing the civil registry would have costed less...

        "They need some visionary to drag them, kicking and screaming, into the century of the fruitbat..."

        How about someone to drag them, kicking and screaming, out of the century of the fruitbat and into the century of the anchovy instead?

        Modern times and whatnot?

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Fixing the civil registry would have costed less...

      Some of that's been done, and other parts of that I don't want done.

      "In other countries getting a driving license without the required stay permit is not so easy."

      In the U.S. as well, which is why they had to branch out. Various methods are available for proving identity, but obtaining a license, especially a federally-approved one, requires documents people who immigrated illegally won't have.

      "Even utility bills could be an issue (of course people renting houses illegally can still have bills in their names or using front people)."

      I don't want to have to prove my identity to connect utilities. I disapprove of a tracking system that can easily link my identity to my ISP connection. It is unnecessary for anyone following the laws, and for any criminal investigation that needs the data, it can be collected in a limited way during the investigation instead of collected indiscriminately and retrieved from that cache. An updated system does not need to collect that data.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Fixing the civil registry would have costed less...

        Actually, the level of identity theft you see in US is unheard outside it. US as an obsolescence issue but doesn't want to face it. Especially since true reforms would require Congress approval and in the actual situation it's impossible. So federal agencies try to get past the stalemate and build such kind of Frankenstein systems which do break your rights deeply.

        Data are already there, but mismanaged so badly they become useless. If that's what you want because you "fear the State", you don't understand that you are the State, so you're actually fearing yourself.

        You're afraid of your ISP knowing your identity - but it does know anyway, just it has exactly to use oblique ways that simply put your privacy more at danger, doesn't increase it, and with a bigger chance of doing a mistake and create more issue than are solved. While Facebook & C. know even more than that.

        After all you do want property records ensuring a given property is yours, and nobody can claim it, right? You might want to know who your tenant is, so you can go go after them if something bad happens, don't you?

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Fixing the civil registry would have costed less...

          "Data are already there, but mismanaged so badly they become useless. If that's what you want because you "fear the State", you don't understand that you are the State, so you're actually fearing yourself."

          Let's get the most wrong part done first: I am not the state. I am a member of a state, which one is not important right now. The state can still abuse one of its members, and many have been known to do so in violation of the laws agreed upon by the state and me as a member. Thus, I wish to avoid those abuses. If I was the state, then I would have the power of the state and I would eliminate those abuses (though making me a dictator is probably not the best way to fix things, I at least promise to be a better one than usually seen).

          The whole point of privacy isn't to eliminate the existence of data. It is to avoid the misuse of that data, including collection by people who should not possess it. Disorganization is basically the goal. I'm in favor of avoiding organizing data when it is not warranted and approved. My ISP does know my name and payment details, but they did not need my identity paperwork to plug in a wire. I think it is possible to pay some of the utilities in cash, so if I wanted to avoid giving them my name, I could do that with extra effort (it's not worth bothering, but it's possible). Facebook probably does know a lot about me, and this is exactly the problem I want solved, so pointing out that it's true is not going to change my mind. A record of property ownership is not the same as a centralized repository of every utility connected to every resident. If I'm renting, my landlord can know who I am and collect documents to prove it if they want without having to record this for government usage which has already been specified to be illegal.

  8. usa1

    Well, since the Biden administration doesn't care about the southern border, they have to do something with their time.

    Biden is first outright anti-American president I've ever experienced. I guess that's good news for the globalists.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      It looks to me that attacking the Congress is a bit more anti-American, but looking from outside I could be wrong...

      And still what happens at the southern border tells you a lot about what people outside US thing of US - you don't see mass of people trying to enter Russia... actually it looks they fight to avoid to become a colony of Russia, and they deserve any help.

      But maybe turning US into something alike Russia will also stop people trying to enter it, sure!

      1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

        you don’t see mass of people trying to enter Russia…

        That depends upon how you define “mass”. This archived article from 2014 discusses the emigration of people, both “legal” and “illegal”, from a number of the ex-USSR -stans to Russia, mainly in search of employment. (More recent articles on the same topic exist, but this article provides informative background context.)

        1. LDS Silver badge

          "from a number of the ex-USSR -stans to Russia"

          Not surprisingly - after all many of them were Russians who emigrated there (forcibly or not) when the Empire was still intact, and may have been given Russian passports for the same reason Russia now invaded Ukraine.

          But you didn't see the Black Sea full of small vessels of people trying to land in Sochi.... Belarus "imported" Afghans and try to deliver them across the Poland border, and those people nor tried to stay in Belarus nor tried to go to Russia...

          1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

            you don’t see mass of people trying to enter Russia…

            The people from the ex-USSR -stans who hold Russian passports have a citizenship right to emigrate to Russia. But as the article noted, in one year (2009), 1.5 million people from Uzbekistan alone emigrated to Russia, whether “legally” or “illegally” — in my view, 1.5 million people fron one country in one year qualifies as a mass of people successfully entering Russia.

            Why would you expect emigrants to Russia to arrive primarily via the Black Sea? Russia has extensive land borders, which are far safer to cross than over large bodies of water in small vessels.

            My understanding was that Belarusian travel agencies were offering trips to Belarus for the purpose of crossing into the EU, not for crossing into Russia or claiming asylum in Belarus, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the Afghanis, Iraqis, &c. who decided to fly to Belarus were intent on crossing into the EU rather than crossing into Russia or staying in Belarus.

    2. eldel

      I hadn't realised that we had a cross posting agreement with THE TRUTH. 4 posts in the last month - looks like we got all of it as well.

      I do love watching the trumpettes whining about "globalists" when the USA has been exporting its inflation to China for decades to allow it to finance its military empire. Of course when their fuhrer employs dubiously documented peons to work in his money losing ventures that's somehow OK. Or the MAGA hats made in Pakistan. Note to trumpettes - Pakistan is not a town in Pennsylvania. It's an actual country out there in the grey mist called "not the lower 48".

      1. Cederic Silver badge

        "trumpettes"? Sigh.

        I have to assume however that you're not referencing the half of America that supported President Donald Trump, as he put measures in place to make Chinese imports less attractive and to return manufacturing jobs to the US, while upsetting the military industrial complex by not starting any wars.

        Precisely countering the exportation of inflation and financing of a military empire.

        He also had strong policies against illegal immigration to the US. Had ICE been allowed to actually prevent this they wouldn't need to try and track and remove all the illegal immigrants now.

    3. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      "anti-American president"

      That was the previous guy. At least the latest guy seems to have a more measurable level of concern for his fellow citizens.

      C.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: "anti-American president"

        Measurable as "fuck all" you mean? Like every single US president for the last 20 years at least?

        Or maybe... you know.... uhh... anyway.... the thing? *wanders off stage right trying to shake the hand of an invisible person*

    4. Nightkiller

      Just remember, every downvote is from a person who is suffering from a John Lennon "Imagine" earworm.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Biden is first outright anti-American president I've ever experienced"

      I bet $5 you said similar things about Obama.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Oh, you only immigrated in 2020? TFG is widely known to have attempted a coup. That's about as anti-American as one can get.

  9. An_Old_Dog Bronze badge
    Unhappy

    Where the Money is

    This is why Google, et. al. are so big on profiling and personal-data-Hoovering: they want to drink from that firehose of cool, delicious, refreshing, federal money -- and it's not just ICE who's spending it.

    1. Jaybus

      Re: Where the Money is

      You're joking, right? A couple billion in 14 years isn't a drop in the ocean of the money Google has made by profiling and Hoovering personal data.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Where the Money is

        ICE is a very small agency...

        Others 3-letters agencies that don't officially exist spend real money...

  10. HildyJ Silver badge
    Stop

    Suspicion

    Basically ICE operates with the suspicion that anyone from south of the United States is an illegal immigrant.

    That assumption drives their philosophy that people can be deported first and wait in some other country, sometimes for years, until they can make their case.

    They have even arrested Puerto Ricans who are US citizens with US passports.

    ICE needs to be thawed, but that will require changing the law. Unfortunately, in our current political climate, this is a non-starter.

    There are too many Americans who wouldn't mind going back to the original Naturalization Act of 1790 which limited naturalization to "free White person(s) ... of good character".

    1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Suspicion

      "people can be deported first and wait in some other country"

      Are they branching out in UK?

    2. very angry man

      Re: Suspicion

      the original Naturalization Act of 1790 which limited naturalization to "free White person(s) ... of good character".

      Good god you mean that has changed?

      in the 70's i could not get a visa, because of a minor infringement as a juvenile , never tried again

  11. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Alert

    Best not give ideas

    to Johnson & Patel

    But maybe turning USBritain into something alike Russia will also stop people trying to enter it, sure!

    1. Stork Silver badge

      Re: Best not give ideas

      It is going quite well with the posher parts of London, right?

  12. Falmari Silver badge
    WTF?

    218 million customers

    “These types of contracts with private data brokers have helped ICE amass utility records from more than 218 million customers across all 50 states and Washington, DC, according to the Georgetown researchers.”

    218 million customers that has got to be nearly every utility customer and therefore the homes of nearly all the population of the USA. Sure, the population is about 330 million, but most homes will have more than just a single resident.

    Why do ICE have the household utility bills of nearly every US citizen, they are not illegal immigrants. This is massive overreach by ICE. As is 74% of driving licenses etc.

    1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

      Re: 218 million customers

      218 million customers that has got to be nearly every utility customer and therefore the homes of nearly all the population of the USA.

      According to the 2020 US census, as of 2019-07-01, there were 139,684,244 “housing units” (i.e. houses, condominiums, apartments/flats, &c., whether occupied or not) within the US, so there is certainly some overlap in those 218 million customer records (which are perhaps represented by tuples of person, service address, utility type, date range, so a single person at a particular service address during a specific date range could have multiple customer records — one for each relevant utility type).

      1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

        Re: 218 million customers

        Section V of the report confirms that my interpretation was mistaken: they’re not 218 million utility customer records, but utility records of 218 million unique customers (among 139.7 million housing units). ICE’s use of these utility records to e.g. track down people for deportation seems to be a side effect — an extra source of income to the NCTUE consumer credit reporting agency, which assembled these utility records as a way to estimate the creditworthiness of people with limited or no traditional credit histories.

      2. Jaybus

        Re: 218 million customers

        ...or they are also getting the utility bills of business customers in addition to residential.

        1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

          Re: 218 million customers

          … or some people only have records of a single type, e.g. someone who rents a room on a “utilities included” basis in an otherwise occupied house might only have a mobile phone bill as an identifying “utility” record.

    2. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: 218 million customers

      Most of them are descendants of illegal immigrants...

      1. WolfFan Silver badge

        Re: 218 million customers

        Well, a certain Orange One with a dead muskrat on his head certainly is…

        1. WolfFan Silver badge

          Re: 218 million customers

          At least five commentards seem to have forgotten that the Orange One’s grandpa was illegal…

  13. Martin-73 Silver badge

    All to enforce an inherently racist policy. Well done, go out of business :)

    Optional content

  14. Mayday
    Big Brother

    Land of the Free

    That’s it really.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Land of the Free

      Land of the eternally enslaved and home of the needlessly scared.

  15. scrubber

    Just the beginning

    Wait until you hear what the new Congressional Police get up to. Oh wait. You can't. They are not subject to any oversight and are not covered by FOIA requests.

    1. Jaybus

      Re: Just the beginning

      Even if they were subject to oversight, Biden's new Disinformation Government Board (aka Ministry of Truth) could suppress anything anyone says about the new Congressional Police anyway. I wonder if "War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength" will become their motto.

  16. Danny 2 Silver badge

    ICE used these kids' interviews to arrest at least 400 of their family members

    And When Did You Last See Your Father?

  17. Kev99 Silver badge

    Hello, Big Brother. I thought the party in power the past few years was absolutely against government meddling in our lives.

  18. SnOOpy168

    Does this mean that we will see quicker clearing of the queues at the counters when arriving from outside the US?

    US seems to have the slowest immigration line movement I have ever experienced vs Europe and Asia.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It takes time to cavity search all those people, thus the queues.

  19. chivo243 Silver badge
    WTF?

    Why?!!

    Am I spending dozens of hours filling out immigration forms to take my wife of 8 years to Merica if they already have every freking piece of evidence they need at their disposal?? And spending some tall cash just to submit the forms??

    1. Dinanziame Silver badge

      Re: Why?!!

      It's easier for them to deport people who are caught lying on a form, rather than simply unwanted. Being a criminal doesn't automatically exclude you from having rights, but lying about it does.

    2. ThatOne Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Why?!!

      > spending dozens of hours filling out immigration forms to take my wife of 8 years to Merica

      They hope that at some point you'll get tired of this, and stop bringing that nasty foreigner into our nice clean USA.

      We don't like foreigners, we've been told time and time again they come to steal our jobs and take our women. The only acceptable foreigners are the illegal barely paid ones who do our gardening, cook and clean our houses for next to nothing.

      /s

  20. Flywheel Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Not "In-Car Entertainment" then

    Tut. Wrong kind of ICE. Mind you, I'd be rather annoyed if my car radio started reporting my listening preferences back to whoever.

    1. Swarthy Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Not "In-Car Entertainment" then

      Ummmm... Well.

      I don't know how to tell you...

  21. Pirate Dave Silver badge
    Pirate

    14 Years

    Even now, 14 years later, we continue to see how wonderful the PATRIOT Act, et al, was in making our American lives safer and more betterer. All while spending a not-insignificant chunk of our tax dollars every year. Not that I've noticed any difference in the number of (probable) illegals in the area, seems about the same as it's always been. But hey, that carpet isn't going to make itself...

    It's a funny world - in the 90's it was the Democrats saying "Aaaargh! We need to get these illegal Hispanics out and keep them out" where the Republicans were like "but who's going to mow my lawn?" Fast forward 10 years, and the parties had reversed roles. Yet more proof that it's all just hand-waving and useless incantations.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Going after the problem from the wrong end

    If one really wanted to stop undocumented immigration, one would have to severely punish the people who provide the incentive to cross a border - the employers. While I have seen people hauled away at shift change at factories, none of them are Anglos in suits. Arrest the factory owners, and do not let them bond out until all those arrested at their facility have had their cases adjudicated. Oooooh, but those are the people who vote for these harsh immigration crackdowns (keeps the underpaid workforce scared of doing anything to call attention to themselves).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Going after the problem from the wrong end

      I will say that I remember INS busts back in the 90's making the local evening news, and the story was usually that INS had detained 3-5 illegal immigrants for deportation. Three to five? It's like they didn't even look through that factory of 300 workers, the vast majority of whom were immigrants, and most of them were of dubious immigration status. It was a lot of fluff, a bit of news coverage, but nothing fundamentally changed.

      Arresting the factory owners is a good idea on paper, but their high-dollar lawyers will have none of it, and Congress would never go for it since they know the people (campaign contributors) who would be arrested.

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