Farrah Hassen Immigration Technology

ICE Probably Spied on You

A new investigation reveals the immigration agency has collected data on most Americans. It’s the latest case in a worrying trend.
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By Farrah Hassen / OtherWords

Growing up in the Southern California suburbs, government surveillance never worried me. But my Syrian-American parents were more cautious. They would often warn me against talking about politics over the phone — in case Big Brother was snooping.

As a teenager, I dismissed their concerns. “Listen, we’re not in the Middle East,” I would counter.

My parents knew better though. I soon received a rude awakening in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

Almost 1,200 people, mostly Muslims, were rounded up and detained after the attacks, often for months without charges. Arabs and South Asians were racially profiled and deported for minor immigration violations. The FBI began surveilling mosques across America.

As part of the homeland security reforms following 9/11, Congress created the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency in 2003 to ostensibly fight terrorism and enforce immigration law. But the truth is, ICE went on to use its newly established authority to spy on nearly everyone in the United States.

An independent, two-year investigation has now revealed that ICE collected data on hundreds of millions of Americans under a legally — and ethically — questionable surveillance system largely outside of public oversight.

Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology uncovered this dragnet after filing over 200 Freedom of Information Act requests and reviewing ICE’s contracting records from 2008 to 2021.

In its report, released May 10, the Center found that ICE has spied on most Americans without a warrant and circumvented many state privacy laws, such as those in California. The authors conclude: “ICE now operates as a domestic surveillance agency.”

ICE has carried out this surveillance by turning to third parties like state Departments of Motor Vehicles, large utility companies, and private data brokers like LexisNexis Risk Solutions.

From these sources, ICE gained access to driver’s license data for 3 in 4 adults living in the United States, and scanned a third of the license photos with facial recognition technology. ICE is also able to view over 218 million utility customers’ records across the country, including for over half of California’s residents.

This surveillance network has unsurprisingly hit immigrant communities hardest. The agency has targeted immigrants for deportation by cruelly exploiting their trust in public institutions, such as when undocumented people apply for a driver’s license or sign up for essential utilities like water and electricity.

These practices point to an agency that has clearly overstepped its boundaries. ICE does not have the congressional authority to do this kind of bulk data collection on the public. This overreach underscores the need to shift U.S. immigration law away from the deportation-driven status quo.

Unfortunately, this ICE program isn’t an isolated case. It’s part of a broader domestic surveillance apparatus that spans decades and multiple federal agencies — including the FBI, CIA, and NSA — and ultimately impacts all of us.

During the 1960s and ‘70s, federal agencies spied on anti-Vietnam War protesters and civil rights leaders. More recently, in 2013 whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency created a massive surveillance program that secretly gathered telephone records on millions of Americans, regardless of whether they were suspected of any wrongdoing.

And this February, newly declassified documents exposed the CIA’s own secret bulk data collection program to spy on Americans. The type of data remains classified, but Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) have called for greater transparency on the agency’s surveillance of Americans.

We should all be alarmed by this growing domestic surveillance state. Left unchecked, it corrodes public trust in our democratic institutions and undermines our civil liberties, most notably the embattled right to privacy.

The history of government surveillance demonstrates that we can never take this right for granted.

Farrah Hassen

Farrah Hassen, J.D., is a writer, policy analyst, and adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at Cal Poly Pomona.

12 comments

  1. “We should all be alarmed by this growing domestic surveillance state. Left unchecked, it corrodes public trust in our democratic institutions and undermines our civil liberties, most notably the embattled right to privacy.”

    The most hilarious thing I’ve read today.

    Democratic institutions???????

    ROFL

    We are the subjects of an oligarchy that’s neither competent nor legitimate.

    The US’ basic institutions are fraudulent.

    “Our” elections have been rigged for some time now — Iran has a theocratic filter, China has a political filter,the US has a money filter. Both Obama presidential campaigns and that of Joe Biden cost one billion dollars each. Anyone think the payees got some bennies in return?

    Rot is inherent.

    The way the Senate is structured virtually assures white minority rule, and control by the most out-of-touch elements of the population. As a last resort, the filibuster.

    Gerrymandering of Congressional districts tops off the structural fraud, this is all a con game.

    The Constitution is an outmoded, 18th century structure that inhibits progress and assures minority white rule.

    Separation of powers is a Rube Goldberg Machine.

    Major politicians are easily corrupted, because they spend much of their time running for office, which takes a lot of money.

    Former Ohio Democratic Party chair: Current generation of politicians have ‘never been in a democracy
    https://thehill.com/hilltv/rising/578996-former-ohio-democratic-party-chair-says-current-generation-of-politicians-have

    The US government is hamstrung by legal and de facto power limitations that gunk everything up. Division of tasks makes sense, but setting up conflicting interests is dumb.

    The Supreme Court, which elected George W. Bush and OK’d Citizens United, is transparently political.

    Amy Barrett re-issued Nixon’s “I am not a crook” statement, underlining the truth about the Supreme Court. Breyer issued a similar muddled liberal version of this nonsense, and the Court’s ever-miniscule intellect, Clarence Thomas, said the same.

    Once you stop thinking of these things as sacred texts, their idiocy becomes clear.

    The states are also a damaging and incoherent anachronism. They bear little resemblance to the actual social and economic structure of the country, Duplication, waste, incoherence, places where backwardness can thrive.

    For the capitalist mindset: try imagining a major corporation that works like that.

    Some 80 million non-voters agree.

    A majority said they believe it makes no difference who is elected president and that things will go on just as they did before. Two-thirds agree, for example, that voting has little to do with the way that real decisions are made in this country; they are 21 points more likely to say so than people who voted.

    They are correct.

    Once the GOP voting apartheid laws go into effect, helped along by president Manchin, only a minority of voters will accept the outcome of any election their side loses.

    No one can vote against the interests of the corporate oligarchy, both “parties” are totally bought-and-sold.

    There are no peaceful options available for necessary change.

  2. How can this fellow say that growing up in Calipornia that he never feared the government spying on him? Was he that insulated? No history, nothing about USA’s history of spying on not just activists, but people in general, i.e. those involved in many issues, from social justice to environmental justice? Born under a rock? Raised in a gated community? I was working with a local chapter of Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. We were FBI-ed. Profiling blacks, profiling Latinos, profiling American Indians? Files files files. Then, of course, more and more files collected — IRS, DMV, Library check outs, financial, credit, health, schooling. Whew. He sees the light now?

    Ahh, Department of Poliltical Science, that’s why the milquetoast! Nothing new or engaging or cutting edge or . . . Welcome to Academia, 2022.

    I’m not killing the messenger. I just tire of the tired and shallow stuff Scheer Post likes to post!

    Here, Howard:

    An argument can be made that in an environment where almost everyone’s personal information is known, in the world of the Internet and government surveillance, that it is almost beyond foolish to believe that there is some information about individuals and groups that remains beyond the purview of government observation and collection.

    When considering this concept, Edward Snowden’s name comes to mind. Readers will recall that Snowden was an NSA contractor when he discovered that that agency had collected personal information on masses of people around the world and in particular on those in the US. The Constitution (remember that quaint founding document from the revolutionary history of the US?) protects those in the US from unreasonable searches and seizures of our personal information in the Fourth Amendment and establishes our right of free expression that is enshrined in the First Amendment. At least that is what some learned in eight-grade civics class.

    Following the Vietnam War era, the US Congress limited the government’s ability to pry into the lives of those in the US. That period, in the late 1970s, was the high point of reining in the government’s ability to spy on those in the US without a warrant and further limited the government’s ability to conduct “dirty tricks’ and sabotage of individuals and groups, as it had done through the FBI’s counterintelligence (COINTELPRO) spying program.

    A footnote to J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO program was the existence of a secret set of files that he held in a place near his office at the FBI that was hidden from the view of all but Hoover and an assistant. Do those kinds of files on targets that the government identifies as suspicious exist today, or are secret files unneeded with the incredible reach the government now has to monitor millions beginning with the 2001 Patriot Act and subsequent laws?

    With sweeping government surveillance in mind, I recently received responses to two requests I made of two government agencies through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Security Agency (NSA) denied my requests with essentially the same language.

    I do not know whether either agency has any information about my political affiliations, political action, or writing, and that’s precisely why I requested any information those agencies may have about me. The result of my inquiry was fairly predictable.

    Here, I’ll focus on the NSA’s response to my query. The essence of each law the NSA cites in denying my request for information is paraphrased and is not a precise legal assessment of each law. What the NSA seems to say is that the laws governing secrecy, state that that agency doesn’t have to disclose anything to an individual seeking to know what that agency may or may not have about them. One statement within the NSA’s response was disconcerting and here I paraphrase once again. They, the NSA, reasoned that if the NSA gives a person information, then a terrorist could trip the NSA up and get information that might help them in their nefarious plans. Pretty dubious reasoning there. Having written and protested about US militarism and empire since the Vietnam War, it seems as if the government may have had a fleeting interest, but this is not an exercise in ego. I doubt if the NSA’s line of reasoning holds much water. If that agency performed their roles within laws that existed before 2001, wouldn’t they have information about anyone with plans to do harm to others? Did they, the NSA and other spy agencies, really need Draconian laws to make the Constitution a laughable document?

    Again, here’s how they reasoned in response to my query:

    + Title 18 US Code 798: The government can keep classified information from you as an unauthorized person.

    + Title 50 3024(i): The director of the NSA protects intelligence sources and methods.

    + Section 6, Public Law 86-36: Laws can’t require the NSA to disclose the functions and activities of the NSA.

    + 150 US Code 3605: This law protects the NSA from disclosing the organization or any function of the NSA.

    Spy agencies, including the NSA, don’t have to disclose anything they may have in their possession about an individual or group. To these agencies, a citizen of the US has few rights since the attacks of 2001. These agencies have the right, by law, to keep all information about people they may surveil as secret information. Spy agencies have rendered the Fourth Amendment toothless. These agencies know everything about many of us and we know almost nothing about them and are effectively barred from learning anything about the information they collect. What they know is that they now have the legal right and means to collect everything about us and our affiliations and actions. Due process enshrined in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and habeas corpus are pretty much out the door in many cases: Consume: Be Silent.

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/10/26/the-surveillance-state-it-knows-almost-everything-about-us-we-know-almost-nothing-about-it/

  3. from a friend, a farmer, in California, who has a pulse on the USA much more engaging than the professorial types. Joe the Farmer, quoting:

    Nina Jankowicz’s Viral Mary Poppins singing TikTok sparks online debate – YouTube

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqZadh7xCR8

    When you watch this video the real question you need to ask yourself is who is more insane, Jankowicz or Joe Biden for, number one, thinking a ministry of truth is a good idea and then picking this fruit loops nut job to head it.

    Everything Joe Biden touches he fucks up royally. The man is totally insane. He’s single handedly taken us to war with Russia, fucked up the economy with his unbridled corporatism to the point where most people (70 percent) can’t afford to live here any longer, created supply chain issues, overseen ridiculous COVID mandates, refuses to honor his pledge to eliminate student debt, ignores health care reforms. He’s just a total disaster and should have never been elected.

    Never underestimate Joe Biden’s ability to fuck things up. The only man I know that can break an anvil with a hammer. A totally clueless idiot. Biden with his insane appointments like Nuland, Blinken, Austin, Fauci, Wallensky, Pasaki, etcetera, actually somehow, God forbid, made people long for Trump and his clown car of crazies.

    The USA has lost its mind.

    1. I feel your pain, Paul+Haeder, but getting ride of Biden will not solve our problems. A new group of clowns is waiting in the wings to take over. Our elected representatives are not chosen by us but palmed off on us by political parties that, again, for the most part, don’t have the American people in mind.

      1. I said this came from a farmer friend, a quippy email to me. I am a communist, dude, and lecturing me on getting rid of Biden will not solve the problems is comical. Since age 13, socialist, card-carrying IWW, other groups, including, whoops, underground railroad for Central Americans, etc. My god!

  4. This is totalitarianism.

    It’s not “communism” or “socialism,” with which Americans have been trained to confuse it msince the days of Joseph McCarthy.

    It’s totalitarian. We are surveilled more than the Germans were in the 1940s.

  5. I remember a reading of an author’s new book on the subject of political repression in San Francisco. During the Q&A, after extensively detailing the grisly realities, the author referred to “those of us” who are used to freedom. Among the usual privileged progressives of the Bay Area, I vainly voiced a different perspective from a worker who reads* of how I’ve never known a workplace where even rumor of constitutional rights is not prohibited, right in line with harsher conditions of wage slavery, like the examples made of those who get out of line by the punitive apparatus of the police state.

    Howard Zinn said the poor and oppressed may not always be just but if you don’t listen to their voices you won’t know what justice is. Maybe the best way to listen is to share the struggles. Antonio Gramsci, a political prisoner himself, spoke of organic intellectuals rooted in the experience of the poor and oppressed, in contradistinction to occupational intellectuals for hire uprooted from such everyday knowledge. It seems our present political predicaments of powerlessness are sizably rooted in the increasing professionalization of public discourse and grassroots politics, particularly via philanthrocapitalism’s nonprofit industrial complex.

    ICE and the entire apparatus of repression that is the health of the state in all its sick power over us, the people whose history has yet to be told, is an inversion of the power we the people hold if we but unite to fight their system of abuse. None are looking over their shoulders more than those atop the pyramid schemes they wield over others, but they will not really feel fear until we do so. If we only keep watch upon a police state coming for others until, as Martin Niemoller said, there will be no one left when they come for us, we will too late realize we have lost the war without a single battle.

    It’s time to fight.

    *
    Questions From A Worker Who Reads (Bertolt Brecht):

    Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
    In the books you will find the names of kings.
    Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?
    And Babylon, many times demolished
    Who raised it up so many times? In what houses
    of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
    Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
    Did the masons go? Great Rome
    Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom
    Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in song
    Only palaces for its inhabitans? Even in fabled Atlantis
    The night the ocean engulfed it
    The drowning still bawled for their slaves.

    The young Alexander conquered India.
    Was he alone?
    Caesar beat the Gauls.
    Did he not have even a cook with him?

    Philip of Spain wept when his armada
    Went down. Was he the only one to weep?
    Frederick the Second won the Seven Year’s War. Who
    Else won it?

    Every page a victory.
    Who cooked the feast for the victors?
    Every ten years a great man?
    Who paid the bill?

    So many reports.
    So many questions.

  6. OK, Paul+Haeder. What do you suggest? You put out a lot of good information but give me your solution.

    1. A hundred solutions to top problems in USA =

      Nationalize utilities
      New Blood in all departments
      End the revolving door for those heading up everything, including USPS, MIC, ag, ed, etc.

      Oh, how do you fix a predator? How do you work with a multiple murderer? How do you work with a continuing criminal enterprise with a multipronged Mafia behind it?

      Shoot, every single moment that each individual thinking Amerikkkan can process information, and then, truly condemn the authorities in and out of government, that’s one task.

      And, to be honest, these posts, and the resultant comments, are all about fiddling while the world burns, while each community gets screwed blued and tatooed.

      Multiple cancers need to be removed, and then, systems thinkers, true blue democrats, true blue socialists, and then, you begin to pull back the ugly scales of the Empire of Lies and Chaos.

      But think of all those silos, all those university departments, all those departments in places like Exxon or Microsoft or . . . . They all are in it for their little kingdom, the mortgage payments, the extra disposable income, etc. etc. So, trying to get a man/woman/LGBTQA+ to tell the truth about his-her-their job, their work, that is, to truly blow the whistle on criminality and unethical SOPs, ahh, that’s diffficult when their very existence relies on stiff arm saluting that corp, company, department, agency, NGO, the like.

      But to ask for solutions when it’s obvious that defunding the pigs/police is the right way, and where did that go in this Democratis Demonic Party of Policing and War? And the first most dangerous outfit in USA, those Republicans, where are they on this? So, the two most dangerous organizations in the world, Dems and Repubes, and we want solutions to medicare for all, free community college education, real massive public transportation, housing that is sustainable, localized food and economies, and, defunding the lot of them as part of the Military Everything Industrial Complex? Shoot, solutions aplenty if you wake up everyday and get angry and then continue to push and fight against the systems of oppression.

      But solutions? I am a teacher, so I have 80 page book on solutions? I am a social worker, so I have 80 page book on solutions to homelessness? And on and on, yet, here we are, capitalism, transnational capital, and, tiny, small, barely medium sized businesses are the thing of the past. When every nanosecond is controlled by the controllers, the managerials, the people fining, taxing, tolling, ticketing, surcharging, evicting, foreclosing, repo-ing, we have a lot of work to do. But think about ending this shit hole system.

      Solutions? Shit, you think I am going to invest hundreds of hours on a deeply researched and considered set of solutions to then package for consumption here at Sheared Off Post, and, for what? Yep, solutions!

      1. Duh. Force governments and communities to shift …
        Flash Shifts … To mitigate and retrench and work on the real issues of our day and age….

        Move the mind away from the trash of much of what ends up on Sheared Off Post. Socialism. And you know what form …

        We are cooked if we can’t strike now and demand public ownership and bottom up leadership

        Here, just one killer topic…. USA, EU, UK … End the ZioLenskyy crap. Neutralize Ukraine and end NATO.

        https://theconversation.com/grim-2022-drought-outlook-for-western-us-offers-warnings-for-the-future-as-climate-change-brings-a-hotter-thirstier-atmosphere-182640

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