Thomson Reuters to examine human rights impact of its data collection for ICE

The EFF, along with many other organisations, has loudly sounded the alarm about data brokers and the myriad ways they can collect data on unsuspecting users, as well as the many hazards public-private surveillance partnerships. One company that has sometimes flown under the radar, however, is the Canadian-based media conglomerate Thomson Reuters. But after undergoing an increase critical for its provision of surveillance technology and contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the company has announcement it will conduct a company-wide human rights assessment for its products and services. This follows several years of investor activism where a minority shareholder, the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), joined the Latinx rights organization Mijente in urging Thomson Reuters to cut its ties with ICE.

The union published a blog post on the decision, stating that “Thomson Reuters contracts with ICE have a total value in excess of US$100 million. The contracts aim to provide data brokerage services that help the US agency target undocumented immigrants for detention and deportation. The company, through its Consolidated Lead Evaluation and Reporting (CLEAR) software, collected data from private and public databases about individuals, such as social media information, names, emails, phone data, license plate scans, utility bills, financial information, arrest records, insurance information, employment records, and much more.

In addition, the CLEAR program provided ICE with Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) data collected by Vigilant Solutions. The EFF has has long watched the generalization use of Vigilant solutions and LPR data by law enforcement. We find the use of ALPR data to prosecute human rights abuses to be a particularly troubling use of this invasive technology.

BCGEU capital markets adviser Emma Pullman told The Verge: “[Thomson Reuters] realized that investors are very concerned about this and the public is increasingly concerned about data brokers. In this kind of perfect storm, the company had to react.

While welcome, an investigation into the impact of providing surveillance technology to perpetrators of human rights abuses is not enough on its own. ICE’s human rights record is both gruesome and well documented. This survey should not be used to endorse existing contracts with ICE, however lucrative.

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