ICE investigators used private utility database to pursue immigration crimesFebruary 26, 2021
The database, CLEAR, includes more than 400 million names, addresses and service records from more than 80 utility companies covering all the staples of modern life, including water, gas and electricity, and phone, Internet and cable TV.
CLEAR documents say the database includes billions of records related to people’s employment, housing, credit reports, criminal histories and vehicle registrations from utility companies in all 50 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is updated daily, meaning even a recent move or new utility sign-up could be reflected in an individual search.
CLEAR is run by the media and data conglomerate Thomson Reuters, which sells “legal investigation software solution” subscriptions to a broad range of companies and public agencies. The company has said in documents that its utility data comes from the credit-reporting giant Equifax. Thomson Reuters, based in Toronto, also owns the international news service Reuters as well as other prominent subscription databases, including Westlaw.
Thomson Reuters has not provided a full client list for CLEAR, but the company has said in marketing documents that the system has been used by police in Detroit, a credit union in California and a fraud investigator in the Midwest. Federal purchasing records show that the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense are among the federal agencies with ongoing contracts for CLEAR data use.
On Friday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent letters to the chief executives of Thomson Reuters and Equifax seeking documents and other information on how ICE has used the utility data in recent years.
“We are concerned that Thomson Reuters’ commercialization of personal and use data of utility customers and sale of broad access to ICE is an abuse of privacy, and that ICE’s use of this database is an abuse of power,” said the letters, which were signed by Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), the committee’s vice chair, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the chairman of a subcommittee on economic and consumer policy.
Thomson Reuters directed requests for comment to ICE, which declined to comment on its “investigative techniques, tactics or tools,” citing “law-enforcement sensitivities.” Equifax did not respond to requests for comment.
ICE has not shared how often it has used utility records to track people, saying such details should be confidential because they outline protected investigative techniques.
But an immigration-case investigator appeared to note the access last June in an email to officials at the Georgia Department of Driver Services. The email was revealed as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology and reviewed by The Post. In the heavily redacted email, the officer said immigration authorities are pursuing a “straight-up Pleasure Visitor” accused of overstaying a visa and that a search of unspecified utility records…