Immigration and Customs Enforcement

ICE Buys Driver's License, Utility Bill Data to Track Americans: Report

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Privacy rights advocates are taking aim at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after a new report uncovered how the federal agency created a vast surveillance network that allows it to track almost every person across the U.S.

After a two-year investigation, researchers at Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology found ICE has been able to track people in the U.S. regardless of their immigration status through their driver's license or utility bill.

ICE has scanned the driver’s license photos of 1 in 3 adults and has access to the driver’s license data of 3 in 4 adults, according to the report. The agency can also track the movements of drivers and locate 3 in 4 adults through their utility records. Researchers obtained the data through countless Freedom of Information Act requests.

"We have to do things like go to the DMV, we go and pay our utility bills, what we realize is we don’t often know how this information is being shared," said Homayra Yusufi, Deputy Director of Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA) in San Diego.

PANA joined the Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology San Diego (TRUST SD) Coalition after several organizations partnered following concerns over so-called "smart" street lights in San Diego.

"Some people say 'I don’t care, I'm not doing anything wrong,' and what I would say is you don’t know the actual consequence," said Yusufi.

According to the Georgetown report, ICE was able to buy personal information through existing data brokers.

"The door by which they do this, this sort of back door into this stuff, is as simple as signing up for utilities, getting your electricity and water paid, or getting a driver's license and I think that should be really worrisome to people," said Ev Meade.

Meade is the director of Proceso Pacífico, a peacebuilding and transitional justice initiative in Mexico.

Meade is the director of Proceso Pacífico, a peacebuilding and transitional justice initiative in Mexico. He said this isn't the first time the Department of Homeland Security has used similar surveillance tactics without the public's consent.

"This is not about an immigration policy targeted at undocumented immigrants from two or three countries," said Meade. "This is everybody with a driver's license, everybody with an electric bill, everybody with a car, etc."

While local groups stand behind state and federal laws to prevent privacy breaches, they are also close to having a Privacy Advisory Board approved by the San Diego City Council.

"I'm concerned that we're breaking trust with our communities, and not only immigrant communities, but all Americans should be infuriated about this," said Yusufi.

NBC 7 reached out to ICE for comment, they did not respond to the request.

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