Since 2016, internal investigations into the unauthorized use of sensitive law enforcement databases and agency computers have involved hundreds of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and contractors.

A wide range of illegal actions, from stalking and harassment to providing information to criminals, are included in the claimed wrongdoing.

These databases, according to ICE, are essential tools for upholding the law. Agency records of internal investigations into misconduct, however, show that they can also be used to undermine it. They demonstrate for the first time how ICE employees allegedly took use of their access to these databases to improperly search for or reveal private data, including location, biometric, and medical information. They also go into detail about how these databases might be accessed improperly to further personal agendas and vendettas.

ICE investigators discovered that the company’s agents probably searched private databases on behalf of their relatives and neighbors, according to an agency disciplinary database that a source received through a public documents request. They were under investigation for sharing their login information with family members and for seeking up information on ex-lovers and coworkers. In certain instances, ICE discovered that its agents were using private data to commit fraud or provide privileged information to criminals in exchange for money.

Since 2016, ICE personnel or subcontractors have been the subject of at least 414 investigations into potential data or computer misuse. The Office of Professional Relations (OPR), a branch tasked with looking into claims of significant misconduct, both criminal and noncriminal, was notified of the wrongdoing in nearly half of those occurrences.

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Following an internal inquiry, 109 of these significant misconduct cases were “substantiated” or “referred to management” by OPR fact finders. These include a Vermont-based enforcement and removals officer charged with “online solicitation of an intellectually disabled adult”; a special agent who accepted gifts from a Colombian drug smuggler in exchange for information; a Virginia deportation officer who changed electronic records to help a family member; and an ICE lawyer who stole immigrants’ identities in an effort to defraud credit card companies.

If the evidence demonstrates that the alleged misbehavior is more likely than not to have occurred, then ICE will classify the complaint as “substantiated” or “referred to management”—a lower threshold of proof than in criminal investigations.

The documents do not state whether any disciplinary actions were taken against ICE employees or contractors whose complaints of misbehavior were found to be true.

Despite the fact that many of the records lack sufficient information to fully understand the claims, two dozen investigations were labeled as criminal. Additionally, the documents specifically state that agents were looked into in at least 14 situations when it was claimed they threatened or harassed someone using agency computers or databases.

For instance, a special agent in McAllen, Texas, is accused of threatening a coworker in March 2021 using data from the TECS database run by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Additionally, in July 2020, Port Isabel Detention Center employees were under investigation for sharing videos of inmates and gaining unauthorized access to a detainee’s medical records.

Requests for response from ICE were not answered in time for publication.

The data were examined by an ICE official who is familiar with the way the agency conducts internal investigations. The official, who wished to remain unnamed because they are not permitted to speak to the media, claims that the existence of a few “bad apples” is unavoidable and not particularly shocking because ICE personnel collectively check private law enforcement databases “many millions of times” each year.

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Although the ICE official said that the problem was probably limited to a few troublesome agents, legal experts and privacy groups who evaluated the data vehemently disagree.

The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) was founded by Albert Fox Cahn, who also serves as its executive director. “This isn’t about a few bad apples, it’s about a tree that’s rotten to the core,” he adds. Mass surveillance in any form is incompatible with civil liberties, according to this statement.

The exploitation of private databases by ICE officials, according to Erik Garcia, an organizer and program manager with the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition in Southern California, “very much is the culture of abuse and unchecked power at ICE.” I wonder if they should even be gathering this data in the first place because it’s ingrained in the culture of policing as a whole.


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