Although it’s supposed to be restricted by surveillance rules at local, state and federal levels, Immigration and Customs Enforcement () has built up a mass surveillance system that includes details on almost all US residents, according to a report from a major think tank.
ICE “now operates as a domestic surveillance agency” and it is able to bypass regulations in part by purchasing databases from private companies.
“Since its founding in 2003, ICE has not only been building its own capacity to use surveillance to carry out deportations but has also played a key role in the federal government’s larger push to amass as much information as possible about all of our lives,” the report’s authors state.
“By reaching into the digital records of state and local governments and buying databases with billions of data points from private companies, ICE has created a surveillance infrastructure that enables it to pull detailed dossiers on nearly anyone, seemingly at any time.”
The researchers spent two years looking into ICE to put together the extensive report, which is called They obtained information by filing hundreds of freedom of information requests and scouring more than 100,000 contracts and procurement records.
Over the years, privacy law experts and civil rights activists and attorneys have accused ICE of overreach in its surveillance tactics directed at immigrants and Americans alike, but the Georgetown report paints a picture of an agency that has gone well beyond its immigration enforcement mandate, instead evolving into something of a broader domestic surveillance agency.
The agency is said to be using data from the Department of Motor Vehicles and utility companies, along with the likes of call records, child welfare records, , healthcare records and social media posts. ICE is now said to hold driver’s license data for 74 percent of adults and can in cities that are home to 70 percent of the adult population in the US.
ICE spent an estimated $2.8 billion between 2008 and 2021 on surveillance, data collection and data-sharing initiatives, according to the Georgetown report. The scale of ICE surveillance came as a shock to the report’s authors.
The authors wrote that ICE is able to carry out these actions in secret and without warrants. Along with the data it acquired from other government departments, utilities, private companies and third-party data brokers, “the power of algorithmic tools for sorting, matching, searching and analysis has dramatically expanded the scope and regularity of ICE surveillance,” . ICE has been able to sidestep congressional oversight and bypass attempts at state level to curtain its surveillance capabilities
“ICE has been able to build massive surveillance capabilities without needing authorization and without congressional oversight,” said Allison McDonald, a research fellow and co-author of the report. “That they have been able to build such an expansive infrastructure in relative secrecy is setting an alarming example for how federal agencies can evade scrutiny.”