Hundreds protested against Thomson Reuters in Times Square last February, demanding the company end its contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Thomson Reuters, the parent company of news agency Reuters, and its subsidiaries, collectively hold ICE contracts with a potential value of $60 million to provide the agency with massive amounts of information and personal data.
“At the most basic level, Thomson Reuters is a major way that information is getting filtered into the system,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, field director and senior organizer for Mijente, a Latinx advocacy organization and one of the co-sponsors of the February protest.
The company plays a more active role in ICE enforcement than previously understood. It tailors its operations with in-house analysts and customized systems designed to offer more accurate information to ICE, according to analysis of documents by Mijente provided to Documented. Rather than a passive data broker, Thomson Reuters assumes a critical role in supporting ICE’s big data use.
Solicitation documents for a four million-dollar contract between Thomson Reuters’ subsidiary Thomson Reuters Special Services and the Department of Homeland Security details expected data services for ICE’s Targeting Operations Division. The documents stipulate that the company builds a “continuous monitoring and alert system” that gathers credit history, property information, employer records, real time jail bookings, phone numbers, addresses, and much more for ICE tracking and arrest of targeted individuals.
The contract further requires a “multi-tiered internal vetting system,” where ICE data must be “analyzed internally by both automation and trained analysts” to “provide the best leads possible and to reduce the number of false positives forwarded to the [Targeting Operations Division].” In other words, Thomson Reuters Special Services provides customized data collection systems and in-house specialists trained to filter and improve the data specifically to ICE’s needs.
“It’s not what you’d typically see from a data broker,” said Sarah Lamdan, a professor of law at CUNY School of Law and a member of Researchers Against Surveillance. Data is extremely valuable capital, Lamdan explains, so companies will stockpile it and sell it, but the transaction usually stops there. “It’s different to what I’ve studied before,” Lamdan said. “Thomson Reuters seems to be helping the customer past the point of sale.”
When asked about the contract, the company provided a statement to Documented saying, “The services contracted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency by Thomson Reuters are used by ICE for its work on active U.S. criminal investigations and threats to national security. In terms of the details of any products or services, Thomson Reuters does not disclose contract details for any customer, unless specifically approved by the customer.”
Beyond the contracts, Thomson Reuters Special Services executives have close ties to the federal agency. Stephen Rubley, CEO of that organization, served on the board of the ICE Foundation, a nonprofit that “supports the men and women of ICE,” as of 2018. James Dinkins, president of Thomson Reuters Special Services, was previously “responsible for establishing” Homeland Security Investigations, an investigative arm of ICE, where he served as executive associate director according to the Thomson Reuters Special Services website.
“We have a revolving door between lobbyists, tech companies, and the federal government,” Gonzalez said. “It’s corrupting our system to its core.”
“We are proud of the work we do with law enforcement agencies and public safety organizations and our contribution to making our communities safer,” a Thomson Reuters spokesperson said. “We take our role as a corporate citizen extremely seriously, and we have well-documented evidence of the positive role our data systems can make to a society.”
In response to Thomson Reuters’ involvement with ICE, a Canadian Thomson Reuters’ shareholder called B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) has recently filed a shareholder proposal for the company’s upcoming annual general meeting calling for the board to produce a human rights risk report. The proposal alleges that Thomson Reuters “has no formal commitment to remedy adverse impacts of human rights abuses by its customers” and calls for more information “to gauge whether Thomson Reuters is addressing this serious risk.”
“There is nothing to suggest that a tech company can’t respect human rights,” wrote BCGEU president Stephanie Smith in a statement to Documented. “To date, Thomson Reuters hasn’t shown any meaningful interest in due diligence on human rights.”
As an example, Smith described how Thomson Reuters relies on ICE agents to self-certify by checking a box that the Thomson Reuters’ technology products they’re using will be used in a lawful manner. “Merely clicking a button is not human rights due diligence,” Smith wrote. “They can do better—a lot better.”
In response to BCGEU’s proposal, the Thomson Board of Directors wrote that a human rights risk report is “not in the best interest of Thomson Reuters or its shareholders” and that the company’s “current policies and practices appropriately and adequately reflect Thomson Reuters’ commitment to respecting human rights.” The Board of Directors recommended voting against the BCGEU proposal.
For Gonzalez and Mijente, however, the shareholder proposal is still a victory. The organization’s research and advocacy on technology use in ICE is gaining traction, Gonzalez explained. “We’re at the table,” she said. “Pushing the conversation is a big step forward.”
Correction: This article mistakenly identified Steve Rubley as the CEO of Thomson Reuters. He is the CEO of Thomson Reuters Special Services.