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Immigrants Worry ICE App Conducts Secret Surveillance

This summary about surveillance concerns over the ICE SmartLINK app was featured in Documented’s Early Arrival newsletter. You can subscribe to receive it in your inbox three times per week here.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is conducting a massive experiment as it monitors more and more immigrants in what’s called conditional release, largely through the smartphone-based application SmartLINK.

A recent article from Documented’s Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio is a collaboration with The Markup, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates how powerful institutions are using technology to change our society. 

“As officials trudge through the vast immigration court backlog,” she writes, “many thousands of immigrants could be tethered to the SmartLINK app for years.”

Already, more than 80% of about 280,000 people monitored on conditional release are enrolled on SmartLINK; many others wear ankle monitors. The use of SmartLINK began under the Trump administration, but the Biden administration has continued to use it, presenting it as a more humane alternative to ankle monitors and detention facilities.

Concerns about the ICE app’s surveillance: More than a dozen advocacy organizations released a recent report stating that “SmartLink poses heightened surveillance, data collection and human rights threats.” Many SmartLINK users Documented interviewed characterized the ICE app as an oppressive surveillance system that caused distinct emotional distress. Some said the psychological toll of living with the app is comparable to that of ankle monitors. Others were concerned about how data collected through the app was used and worried about privacy.

Conducting activities without user permission: Documented and The Markup found that SmartLINK’s permissions are not limited to accessing the device’s camera and location to carry out check-ins, but also that the application requests permissions to record audio and make calls without user approval. Several SmartLINK users said they go so far as limiting contact with relatives and friends on their devices, especially with those who are undocumented, for fear that ICE could intercept their communications.

Experts are also concerned about how the data officials collect about immigrants through SmartLINK are being used. Documented heard from ICE regarding data protection on the app, but the agency did not respond to specific questions about what data can be accessed through the app. Neither ICE nor SmartLINK parent company GEO Group answered questions regarding the technical glitches immigrants say they have experienced on the app. 

Read the full report from Documented and the Mark Up here.


New York

How immigrants and people traveling to New York can access abortion: New York will continue to make abortion accessible to everyone — including undocumented immigrants and visitors from out-of-state. — Read up on resources on Documented

Nearly 100 advocates rally in New Jersey for legislative change: The advocates are pushing New Jersey to pass legislation to expand language access, disaggregate data on immigrant communities, and increase protections. — Thirteen

Around the U.S. 

Louisiana immigration judges denied 88% of asylum cases: The massive amount of asylum denials between 2016 and 2021 can partially be attributed to a lack of legal representation for immigrants. — The Acadiana Advocate

Growing up in the shadow of DACA: Six DACA recipients tell their stories of how the program helped them and what will happen if it ends. — The New York Times (Opinion)

Revelations show Trump immigration policy was supposed to be harsher: A new book details how former President Trump’s immigration policy guru Stephen Miller planned to identify children at school for deportation under the pretext of checking for gang members. — Forbes

Chef Byron Gomez on how DACA paved the way for his career: The former Top Chef contestant says a lot of fear about and within the immigrant community stems from a lack of knowledge and education. — Eater (Opinion)

Washington D.C.

Judge’s order blocking ICE arrest priorities takes effect: DHS released a statement saying it will appeal the federal judge’s order but effective June 25, it can no longer set priorities for which immigrant to detain or not. — New York Times 

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