Speaking Of Privacy…

I’ve never been particularly concerned about my data privacy–at the university, the tech support people drove me nuts with their log-in protocols and automatic encryption of “sensitive” emails. Like most Americans who pretty much live online, buy online and communicate online, I recognized that there is a tradeoff between convenience and some degree of exposure, and–again, like most Americans–it was a tradeoff I was (and still am) willing to make.

Government surveillance is another matter entirely.

Governing Magazine recently reported on activities being conducted–mostly surreptitiously–by ICE. Those activities are truly dystopian.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has crafted a sophisticated surveillance dragnet designed to spy on most people living in the United States, without the need for warrants and many times circumventing state privacy laws, such as those in California, according to a two-year investigation released Tuesday by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology.

Over the years, privacy law experts and civil rights activists and attorneys have accused ICE of overreach in its surveillance tactics directed at immigrants and Americans alike, but the Georgetown report paints a picture of an agency that has gone well beyond its immigration enforcement mandate, instead evolving into something of a broader domestic surveillance agency, according to the report, called “American Dragnet: Data-Driven Deportation in the 21st Century.”

The report outlines the extent into which ICE has gone in order to form a large-scale surveillance system that has reached into the lives into ordinary people living in the U.S. Skirting local laws intending to protect individuals’ privacy, the agency has turned to third-party outfits— utility companies, private databases and even the Department of Motor Vehicles in some states — to amass a trove of information from hundreds of thousands of Americans and immigrants to target people for deportation.

This surveillance network isn’t some penny-ante operation; the article says that ICE spent “an estimated $2.8 billion between 2008 and 2021 on new surveillance, data collection and data-sharing initiatives.

ICE was established after the Sept. 11 attacks, and given sweeping powers to fight terrorism and enforce immigration law. Since its formation, the article tells us that without much oversight, the agency has collected data on hundreds of millions of Americans. It has frequently been accused of crossing legal and ethical lines to “weave a vast surveillance system,” according to the Georgetown report.

“I was alarmed to discover that ICE has built up a sweeping surveillance infrastructure capable of tracking almost anyone, seemingly at any time. ICE has ramped up its surveillance capacities in near-complete secrecy and impunity, sidestepping limitations and flying under the radar of lawmakers,” said Nina Wang, policy associate at the Center on Privacy & Technology and a co-author of the study.

Anti-immigration Americans who might be tempted to shrug this off because it’s “only targeting illegal immigration” shouldn’t be sanguine. Thanks to the methods being used to collect the information, the agency has data on pretty much anyone who has ever applied for a driver’s license, driven on the nation’s roads, or contracted with their local utilities to get access to heat, water and/or electricity.

Among other findings, the report documents that ICE has drivers’ license data for 3 in 4 adults living in the U.S.; has scanned at least 1 in 3 of all adults’ driver’s licenses with face recognition technology; can track the movement of vehicles in cities that are home to nearly 3 in 4 adults; and can locate 3 in 4 adults through their utility records.

What was that famous quote from Martin Niemoller? “First they came for the socialists…”

The fact that one federal agency has clearly “gone rogue” would be less chilling if the United States wasn’t in the midst of a concerted effort by the Right to replace democratic norms with a Neo-fascist regime. The GOP has been transformed in to a White Nationalist cult that is all too ready to embrace Storm Trooper methodologies, and while its MAGA base represents a distinct minority of Americans, thanks to gerrymandering, the Electoral College and other antiquated electoral systems, it’s able to exercise far more power than its percentage of the vote would otherwise allow.

Worse still, we find ourselves in this position at a time when we no longer have a Supreme Court majority willing to protect settled precedents and  the rule of law.

If Donald Trump (or one of his clones) wins the Presidency in 2024, do you have any doubt that he would make use of the ICE surveillance data to stamp out dissent and punish his opponents?

Reading this report in the wake of the Buffalo massacre raised another chilling question: why hasn’t ICE used its data to fight domestic terrorism? How deeply are MAGA bigots already ensconced in this clandestine agency?

How far down the road to autocracy have we come?


  1. My first thought echoes your ending comment – with this amount of information, why hasn’t the agency joined the fight against domestic terrorism. I guess being “white” is sufficient excuse for citizenship.

  2. I highlighted a few remarks to discuss, but Sheila’s last question is much more specific – “How far down the road to autocracy have we come?”

    You can take ICE and add DHS to the mix. Both of these departments are under the umbrella of the NSA/CIA.

    They have been collecting everything since 9/11, which almost makes a person believe it was an inside job, especially under GWB.

    Big Tech is a government partner, as we’ve seen with Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Many tech firms were funded from seed money by the CIA’s venture fund. Lots of joint ventures with Israel as well.

    If you watch closely, the technology is also an aspect of the war taking place in the Baltics/Europe, and the USA just put together a multi-billion package of freebies to build out High Tech back in the USA.

    The oligarchy is an autocracy and has been for a while. The only remnants of democracy come from the propaganda media owned by the oligarchy, so…

    And now we have a Ministry of Truth.

    You don’t need to be conspiratorial because it’s been operating for a while now.

  3. ICE is a hangover from George W’s Patriot Act which removed or circumvented many of our civil laws and we lost rights. Is this the source of the release of White Nationalist MAGA terrorism on this country by Trump & Co.? Like the Mueller Report; we have never seen the Patriot Act in entirety. While the Mueller Report attempted to publicly report its findings, the Patriot Act covered up the Republican government’s activities under George W. and is currently allowing elected and appointed officials to ignore subpoenas with no action taken against them. There are those sitting in office and others campaigning for office who should be fully investigated and action taken for their seditious support of White Nationalist MAGA control which borders on treason. We now see THEY ARE ABOVE THE LAW and continue to support the “Big Lie”.

    “… why hasn’t ICE used its data to fight domestic terrorism?” Because White Nationalist MAGA supports domestic terrorism.

    Be afraid, be very afraid!!!

  4. ICE was put in place supposedly for our protection. Im not sure ICE has any authority to go after any group of people that aren’t illegally here as immigrants. Does it pass on information of illegal activity to reduce Fentynol being brought in. I hope so. A relative of my lays in a hospital fighting for her life right now due to her self induced problem. Chinese companies are being called out for supplying cartels.
    Remember when the Twin Towers came down? Are people from countries other than Central America coming in?
    The outgoing Border Patrol Chief made it clear in Aug 2021 that we are not meeting the expectstions needed to stop terrorists and drug smugglers from getting access due to the sheer number of border crossings.
    It is a shame that baby formula sits in warehouses confirmed by video from Congressman who were called liars previously pointing out that this administration cares more about noncitizens, while we who can’t buy formula find shelves empty.
    Tech podcasts are concerned about China attacking Taiwan and disrupting production of almost everything. Its hard to be a globalist at this time instead of joining the ranks of the MAGA crowd.
    It is very clear states need to legislate “ red flag” laws. Mr Gendron with his rhetoric and past need for counseling would have most likely put him on Indianas list. Will red flag laws be passed?

  5. Mentioning ICE and DHS makes Prof Richardson’s hair catch fire.
    Michael Moore talks about GWB and his affiliation to the terrorists of 9/11.

  6. Everything seems like a 60s spy thriller, combined with alien abduction, but then, alien abduction and deportation is the whole idea of this game, isn’t it?

  7. I stand with Anita Kirchen top of the order this morning. If ICE has that kind of data including who purchased military style weapons and a stash of ammunition then I am willing to risk surveillance including me. I have nothing to hide, but I would like to be able to pursue happiness without being targeted by a White Christian Nationalist.

  8. Welcome to the panopticon.

    Want to know just what ICE collects and what they do with the data? Here’s a link to their System of Records Notices (SORNS). https://www.dhs.gov/system-records-notices-sorns

    SORNS are required under the 1974 Privacy Act, and function as a notice of information practices with respect to specific collection programs. You’ll notice several “Notice of Proposed Rule Making for Privacy Act Exemptions” in the list. The exemptions basically limit the privacy rights of individuals whose data the systems will be processing (e.g., the right to notification of data practices (beyond the SORN), the right to access data, etc.; rights that, if exercised would alert individuals that they are the targets of surveillance. I would guess there’s an exemption to allow data matching, as well.).

    Want to know what ICE sees as the privacy risks associated with their surveillance programs and what they do to mitigate those risks? Here’s a link to their Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs). https://www.dhs.gov/privacy-documents-ice

    As someone who’s been dealing professionally with privacy risk management and compliance for the past 25+ years, knowing that ICE complies with federal privacy law doesn’t make me feel any more comfortable with their surveillance practices. As we know, data privacy in U.S. law (unlike virtually everywhere else) isn’t viewed as a fundamental human right, and a government can comply with the law and still be an authoritarian dystopia. But at least the ’74 Privacy Act makes it harder to keep some of that a secret. There are organizations that fight back against this sort of intrusion and erosion of rights, including The Center for Privacy and Technology, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Privacy International, the Future of Privacy Forum, and others. Support them.

  9. Todd,

    Actually, this has been going on way before 9/11!

    Wait I’ll give you an example, back in the eatly ’90s, some of us had to go through complete background checks from the government. Because we’re going to be working on some sort of government project, they had to make sure we were basically not susceptible to bribery or criminal activity!

    A building not far from the woodfield Mall in Arlington heights was being constructed. The walls were steel reinforced concrete 3-ft thick. The outside was covered with a lead sheeting, and that was covered with a brick fascia! The inside of this facility looked like a Faraday cage. Really inpenetrable for any sort of electronic snooping.

    On site, the building was to be powered by three separate feeder lines, one from a nuclear station, one from a fossil fuel station, and one from a solar-powered facility miles away. There also was a monstrous diesel generator that could operate the entire facility, and a backup jet powered electrical generating facility on site.

    The satellite dishes that were behind the facility, were huge and numerous. Fiber optic cables the size and circumference of one’s leg were running into the building. The electrical infrastructure was magnificent! It probably could survive a nuclear attack. It might have been the only building with power in the United States after an attack.

    We had special IDs besides our company ID. We had to show those IDs every time we entered the property. There were unmarked vehicles by each gate, they’re also was military looking vehicles that were not really identifiable but had weapons integrated into them.

    I do know the facility was to monitor every phone call in and out of the United States, and certain words would trigger a recording of a conversation or storage of an email chain. This setup was really astounding, and, at the time, we were sworn to secrecy under penalty of prosecution. So basically we couldn’t talk about it. So if you think what today’s thread is talking about is something new? Absolutely not, they have stored billions of terabytes of information that more than likely is still there. And cataloged year by year! And anyone who ever said anything unflattering including this thread, lol, is probably stored in that facility. And I would imagine there’s more than just that one particular facility. You probably wouldn’t even notice the black square building half submerged below ground level.

    I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but, I would also venture to say everyone is being watched! And, threats or possible threats identified, categorized, and logged in.

    And Todd, you’re probably A number 1, lol! 🤔😲🤫

  10. I’ve been reading (really good) books by Philip Kerr about a non-Nazi detective in 1930s-1950s Germany. The similarities are stark – notably about all of the good Germans who willfully ignored signs that the MGGA “minority “ were taking over.
    And like here, like now, the make Germany great again crowd infiltrated the power centers. Voting for candidates who want to save democracy is the only way out.

  11. I’m not sure we even know how many agencies (and others who spy for merchandisers) know everything about us. I recall that my now-deceased wife told me one time that there were those who could tell me that my eyes were blue and that I liked Buicks, and that was thirty years ago. With all the improvements in spying I can only imagine what they know about every American today – or maybe I don’t want to know.

    Privacy? Whut’s thet? We haven’t fully decided what that “right” is and whether it is implied as a “right” by Amendment(s) to the Constitution. I think it exists and that government’s intrusion into one’s privacy in certain areas is proscribed as a result, but so what? The horse is already out the barn door and closing that metaphorical door is an exercise in futility.

    Finally, does one’s preference for Buicks label him or her a domestic terrorist in this disparate use of information? Hardly. I opposed the “Patriot Act” at the time it was offered on civil liberties grounds and now I have some additional reasons to oppose “The Patriot Act” and other post 9-11 reactionary responses that dealt the right of privacy a blow from which it cannot now recover. We are in “so what” territory. It’s over.

  12. I still believe if you are proud of yourself and the things you stand for, who cares who monitors that info, and who spreads it forth. I know I can only speak for myself, but if my beliefs, thoughts, actions and speech were to get me killed, I am okay with that. I only have to answer to my God, and that sure as he’ll is no politician or government official.

  13. Thank you, once again, GWB, you local town’s local idiot! How much more damage to our country, and Democracy, in general, will be traceable to you by future historians? You, Reagan and Trump, all of whom gained the presidency by treason, and/or other dirty tricks, which clearly show the content of your character, have hurt the country you so loudly claimed to love.
    ICE needs to be disbanded, AND cleaned out, as in its records destroyed, its infrastructure dismantled, or someone, somewhere will find a way to make nefarious use thereof!
    This is scary stuff!

    Thank you “Governing Magazine!” And, thank you,Sheila.

  14. Mitch, it will never be “cleared out” or “cleaned up.”

    The surveillance state is here to stay with us. As John described, those are NSA black sites and they are situated throughout the country and overseas.

    Why do you think we needed a Space Force? Satellites control much of the new technology. Unarmed drones require towers somewhere. Take out the towers and you take out the drone capabilities.

    Peace and truth are much easier and less costly than war and propaganda. Controlling people has a huge cost. 😉

  15. We’ve always known that progress is a two edged sword. Expanding human knowledge into new capabilities is what humans do intrinsically and it doesn’t come equipped with effective ways to control how it’s used. We now have the capability to store really unimaginable amounts of data in networked computers. The Internet acts like one giant super, supercomputer. We are not going to forget that knowledge now that we have it anymore that we forgot how to create and maintain nuclear fission and fusion.

    That makes the continuous development of newly found capability the source of infinite question about how to regulate emerging technologies just like the questions that we have been dealing with for longer about how to regulate increasing powerful and available weapons. Who even defines much less maintains the means to manage anything we collectively know how to do to ‘beneficial to benign’ uses but prevents ‘benign to at the expense of others’ uses?

    Of course here and now there is political debate going on about, should we forget that we know about our history by not attending to our fields of it until they are overrun with weeds of mythology?

    This is the outgrowth of the age old philosophical debate about good and evil humans. Why do we come capable of those extremes and with such variation? For centuries we relied on the concept of religions to help with that.

    It really leads back to the philosophy of governance which we reluctantly agree is necessary for society to function. We know that, but because as the number of human connections grow so also does human competition, who and how and what balances that collaboration and competition between empowering them to degrees that they are effective, but limits them to, I will help but not tread on you if you help but don’t tread on me, and here’s how we both sleep at night assured of that agreement?

    We keep enhancing our capabilities but that always makes our problems much tougher to solve. Where are the limits and are we capable of managing ourselves into staying within them, or will reality step in and impose solutions to solve our inability to.

    The latter seems more likely to me.

  16. Well, this is all very entertaining if not educational. If all these “security measures” are even somewhat true and or correct, it’s entirely too clear, going back to before 9/11 that they’re not doing much of anything to protect, um, well… anyone! As all too many of the events of just this past weekend clearly exhibit.

  17. Oldy,

    Now you get the picture! It really is not about protecting the American public, it’s about protecting government from the American public. You can best believe there was plenty of rumblings going on about 9/11. We know that because some of it came to light over the years. But I would imagine there’s information that is really damning to the government!

    And, one more thing, government knew about what was going to happen this past weekend.

    Both individuals had extensively written about their issues, and, folks reported some of the stuff to the police themselves. Why was nothing done? The concern is to protect the politicians! Of course nothing is perfect, but as you can see by the supreme Court rulings, the politicians are now able to enrich themselves beyond imagination with political donations. So, politicians can make sure the courts are favorable to them. Everything else is just backwash. It keeps the people fighting amongst each other.

    But, like I said, this is to protect the politicians! This is to protect the members of government! Not to prevent Mass murders amongst the general population. If that was a concern, the government could have just outlawed weapons all together. But why haven’t they? When you have people preoccupied with killing each other, they’re less likely to focus on their political overlords.

    Americans feel empowered when they have their weapons! And the government is well aware, trying to remove those weapons in this country would cause a revolutionary war of sorts. So, let them keep their security blankets as long as they are not turned towards the politicians. Keep track of the groups, if there are any plots to attack government itself, I’m sure they would take action. Politicians are going to protect their own backsides. I know folks that would actually buy ammunition rather than food, so, the desire for that security blanket is deep, and the desire to use it on your fellow citizen is just as deep.

  18. Presently Immigration Court for Indpls. is Chicago’s 7th Circuit. Indpls. is slated to get a local Immigration Court next year, which will save resources and expedite process. Hopefully, the power of the Courts hold to break up powers encroaching on the rights of vulnerable hard working families.

  19. Yes, good afternoon, John!

    Well over a year after the “1/6 coup plot” went down, we are learning who texted what to whom the days before. As if the information wasn’t known before. LOL

    I could go down the list of annoying leaks to the WaPo over the past year, but none are “unknown sources” or “leakers” since we don’t have such a thing in this country. The government knows precisely who said what and when.

    Julian Assange disclosed all of this over a decade ago and it’s why he built Wikileaks as a model for independent media to circumvent government channels via encryption. He protected whistleblowers which are why Edward Snowden went to Glenn Greenwald with his information and Chelsea Manning went to Wikileaks.

    They knew going to the New York Times was like walking into the State Department and saying, “Here, I stole this from you and want it on the 8 pm news with Rachel Maddow.” LOL

    MSNBC and Fox News are junk news. It’s garbage. #Propaganda

  20. I suspect that this data will never be shared with any other law enforcement agency since it sounds like most of the data has been obtained either in a grey area or illegally.

    To use the data on a US citizen would give cause for a citizen to use US laws to probe the source of the data. It seems whenever a non-citizen makes a complaint about anything in the US, the answer from the courts is; you’re not a citizen and you don’t have any rights in the US.

  21. If what is reported is correct, I suggest a Reagan –
    Fire every last one in the agency, bar them for LIFE, and hire all new people, who deal with real threats and not bigotry.
    It worked with the air traffic controllers. None of the new crews would ever dream of unionizing.

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