As Facebook faces increased pressure over how it manages user data, a report in The Intercept shows that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE has access to personal data from the social medium, and a track record of using such information to track immigrants.
ICE agents were able to obtain backend Facebook data revealing a log of when an account was accessed and the IP addresses corresponding to each login, according to a string of emails and documents obtained by The Intercept through a public records request.
Palantir, a controversial data analytics firm co-founded by billionaire investor Peter Thiel, does business with the military and major intelligence agencies. The company has contracted with ICE since 2014, developing a special system for ICE to access a vast “ecosystem” of data to facilitate immigration officials in both discovering targets and then creating and administering cases against them, journalist Spencer Woodman reported in 2017.
From The Intercept. Story by Lee Fang.
In February and March of 2017, several ICE agents were in communication with a detective from Las Cruces, New Mexico, to find information about a particular person. They were ultimately able to obtain backend Facebook data revealing a log of when the account was accessed and the IP addresses corresponding to each login.
Lea Whitis, an agent with Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative arm of ICE, emailed the team a “Facebook Business Record” revealing the suspect’s phone number and the locations of each login into his account during a date range.
Law enforcement agents routinely use bank, telephone, and internet records for investigations, but the extent to which ICE uses social media is not well known.
A Facebook spokesperson, in a statement, said that ICE does not have any unique access to data:
Facebook does not provide ICE or any other law enforcement agency with any special data access to assist with the enforcement of immigration law. We have strict processes in place to handle these government requests…In this case, our records show that ICE sent valid legal process to us in an investigation said to involve an active child predator… One of the agents involved in the hunt responded that they could combine the data with “IP address information back from T-Mobile.”
There is little public disclosure of how ICE uses the Palantir platform to track individuals. The emails obtained by The Intercept show that private Facebook information is yet another data point for agents in pursuit of a suspect.
“I have not heard of HSI going and getting private information from Facebook. What we’ve been seeing is when they use someone’s Facebook page and print what they’ve been posting to use as evidence to argue that person is a gang member,” said Rachel K. Prandini, staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
“Photos with friends ICE thinks are gang members, doing hand signs that ICE alleges are gang signs, or wearing clothes that ICE believes indicate gang membership are being pulled from Facebook and submitted as evidence in immigration court proceedings,” Prandini added.
“We have the ability to seek subpoenas and court orders to legally compel a company to provide information that may assist in case completion and subsequent prosecution,” said Matthew Bourke, a spokesperson for ICE, in an email to The Intercept.
Facebook publishes a semiannual transparency report detailing the number of government requests for user data. The report does not break down which law enforcement agencies are making the requests for data, so it is unclear how many of the requests came from ICE.
“For these subpoenas, it’s trivially easy for ICE or any other law enforcement agencies to issue,” said Nathan Wessler, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “They don’t require the involvement of a judge ahead of time. It’s really just a piece of paper that they’ve prepared ahead of time, a form, and they fill in a couple of pieces of information about what they’re looking for and they self-certify what they’re looking for is relevant to an ongoing investigation.”
Recent reports from a whistleblower have refocused attention on Silicon Valley-based Facebook for allowing Cambridge Analytica, a campaign consulting firm that served groups supporting Trump’s presidential campaign, access to user data.
Though Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg have provided political support for immigration reform efforts in the past, the company has received relatively little scrutiny for its role in ICE’s deportation machine. Last year, ICE agents requested private Facebook data to obtain a cellphone number for an unauthorized immigrant in Detroit who they were pursuing. That number was then tracked through a cell site simulator, a powerful surveillance tool used to vacuum cellphone calls and user location data.
Wessler noted that the use of Facebook data combined with Palantir shows the agency is expanding its reach.
“It speaks to the importance of companies like Palantir to have tremendous ability to amass a great deal of information about people, Wessler said. “Just because a federal agency can pay for a contract to provide a service doesn’t mean it is a good idea when it’s enabling a massive deportation apparatus without appropriate checks and balances.”
Read more at The Intercept.