Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Thomson Reuters is helping ICE find immigrants targeted for deportation

The parent company of the Reuters News Agency has a hitherto little-known relationship providing private, personal information on immigrants targeted by the U.S. government's deportation machinery.

Data mercenaries own the Reuters News Agency
The relationship is revealed in a Request for Information from the government to private contractors that might be able to provide a "continuous monitoring and alert system" that handles: "FBI numbers; State Identification Numbers; real time jail booking data; credit history; insurance claims; phone number account information; wireless phone accounts; wire transfer data; driver’s license information; Vehicle Registration Information; property information; pay day loan information;  public court records; incarceration data; employment address data; Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) data; and employer records."

A Response to Questions document published in conjunction with the request says, "this service is currently being provided by Thomson Reuters Special Services, LLC." It also says that "CLEAR and other Thomson Reuters data services" are the ones being used now to "aggregate data from."

The Thomson Reuters web site describes CLEAR this way:

  • CLEAR is the next-generation online investigative platform designed specifically to meet unique needs of investigative customers....
  • CLEAR makes it easier to locate people, assets, businesses, affiliations, and other critical facts. With its vast collection of public and proprietary records, investigators are able to dive deep into their research and uncover hard to find data.

The details of the offer are a police state nightmare:

    Billions of cell phone, landline, TracFone, business, and VoIP records delivered in real-time ensure your phone searches bring back comprehensive results
    Real-time booking information from more than 2,200 facilities and from the most complete network of 90 million historical arrest records and intake photos
    Live access to more than 6 billion license plate scans from Vigilant Solutions® to make data driven connections to discover the “who” in an investigation
    See where the data came from, when it was supplied, and who supplied it 

The documents were brought to light by the Center for Investigative Reporting in an article detailing Immigration and Custom Enforcement's request for information on a program to outsource data collection on 500,000 people a month.

The current relationship with Thomson Reuters is revealed in very fine print toward the end of the Q&A document.

This relation by another division of the same company is an unacceptable conflict of interest for a news organization. It is receiving money (for whatever reason) from one side in a controversy it covers

And this isn't just any controversy, but one that affects many millions of people, an issue that was the signature theme of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

As if that weren't bad enough, the Reuters news service has never disclosed the conflict.

And the relationship is the absolute worst, providing information on immigrants targeted by ICE.

This places the immigrant rights movement, Latino groups and progressive organizations in the very uncomfortable position of having to bar Reuters reporters and camera crews from their events.

Why? Because Reuters provides intelligence services to ICE (and as it turns out, other police agencies). You wouldn't welcome FBI and ICE agents with microphones and cameras to your events, would you? And if you discovered that one had snuck in, you'd tell them to leave.

It is not a question of the integrity of individual reporters or editors, or even the news division as a whole. The material Reuters gathers as a news organization --for example, video footage of a confrontation between undocumented activists and white supremacists-- belongs to the parent organization and there is no way a reporter could stop it from being handed to the cops, or even discover that this had been done surreptitiously.

I've been a journalist for four and a half decades and can't recall another case like this involving what has been generally considered a reputable news organization.

Journalists have ethical obligations, not just to confidential sources, but to people we come across in our coverage. We are allowed privileged access to all sorts of events and situations and the implicit commitment that comes from asking for that access is that it will be used for reporting and only for reporting. Right now there is no way a Reuters journalist can assume that commitment.

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