Press release: Privacy International asks Thomson Reuters if it will stop facilitating the US government’s “zero tolerance” policy

Press release

Privacy International (PI) has today sent an open letter to the President of Thomson Reuters Corporation asking whether he will commit to ensuring the multinational company’s products or services are not used to enforce cruel, arbitrary, and disproportionate measures, including those currently being implemented by US immigration authorities.

Documentation shows that Thomson Reuters Corporation is selling access to highly sensitive and personal data to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, the authority responsible for implementing the US government’s zero tolerance immigration policy, including the separation of families at detention centres.

Documents show that ICE currently has contracts:

  • With West Publishing Corporation, a Thomson Reuters subsidiary, providing it with access to the Consolidated Lead Evaluation and Reporting (CLEAR) system as part of a contract value worth over $20 million. The CLEAR system allows ICE access to a “vast collection of public and proprietary records” including phone records, consumer and credit bureau data, healthcare provider content, utilities data, DMV records, World-Check listing, business data, data from social networks and chatrooms, and “live access to more than 7 billion license plate detections”.
  • With Thomson Reuters Special Services providing ICE’s Detention Compliance and Removal office with “subscription data services”. The contract is worth over $6.7 million and was signed in February 2018. Other documentation specifies that the contract is for a “continuous monitoring and alert system to track 500,000 identities per month” which is “able to securely process and return aliens’ information and addresses using the following types of specified data: 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.”
  • With West Publishing Corporation providing its Detention Compliance and Removal office with “access to license plate reader database” as part of a contract value worth over $6 million in December 2017.

PI is urgently asking Thomson Reuters Corporation:

  • Whether any of the company’s or company subsidiaries’ products or services are being or have been used by US authorities to identity families for immigration enforcement purposes, including parents potentially separated from their children
  • What human rights impact assessments of the company’s or company subsidiaries’ products or services have been completed, if any
  • Whether Thomson Reuters Corporation will commit to not providing products or services to US immigration agencies which may be used to enforce such cruel, arbitrary, and disproportionate measures
  • Whether Thomson Reuters Corporation will commit to not providing products or services to agencies worldwide which may be used to enforce cruel, arbitrary, and disproportionate measures

Edin Omanovic, State Surveillance Programme Lead at Privacy International said:

“Thomson Reuters calls itself ‘The Answer Company’ so today we’re asking it a simple question: will the company continue to support cruelty and inhumanity? Recent scenes of families being held and separated are a stark reminder of the barbarism which can be inflicted on people through cold bureaucracy, simple observance, and callous opportunism. Does Thomson Reuters really want to continue profiting from and facilitating the authorities responsible for this?
In today’s complex data eco-system companies track and profile people 24-hours a day. Companies exploit this system for political campaigning, credit scoring, selling insurance, and in the case of Thomson Reuters, to proffer data services to law enforcement. It is their business to learn about people’s habits, ethnicities, religious beliefs, personalities, political beliefs, and more, and to sell this information, often without any proper oversight or transparency.
Globally, authoritarians are being emboldened to carry out increasingly barbaric measures, and they’re increasingly weaponising data to implement them. It’s time for Thomson Reuters and every company to choose whether they want to support this, whether they want to be committed to protecting people’s rights or complicit in abuses against them.”