The legal research and public records data broker LexisNexis is providing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with tools to target people who may potentially commit a crime — before any actual crime takes place, according to a contract document obtained by The Intercept. LexisNexis data then helps ICE to track the purported pre-criminals’ movements.
The unredacted contract overview provides a rare look at the controversial $16.8 million agreement between LexisNexis and ICE, a federal law enforcement agency whose surveillance of and raids against migrant communities are widely criticized as brutal, unconstitutional, and inhumane.
“The purpose of this program is mass surveillance at its core,” said Julie Mao, an attorney and co-founder of Just Futures Law, which is suing LexisNexis over allegations it illegally buys and sells personal data. Mao told The Intercept the ICE contract document, which she reviewed for The Intercept, is “an admission and indication that ICE aims to surveil individuals where no crime has been committed and no criminal warrant or evidence of probable cause.”
While the company has previously refused to answer any questions about precisely what data it’s selling to ICE or to what end, the contract overview describes LexisNexis software as not simply a giant bucket of personal data, but also a sophisticated analytical machine that purports to detect suspicious activity and scrutinize migrants — including their locations.
“This is really concerning,” Emily Tucker, the executive director of Georgetown Law School’s Center on Privacy and Technology, told The Intercept. Tucker compared the contract to controversial and frequently biased predictive policing software, causing heightened alarm thanks to ICE’s use of license plate databases. “Imagine if whenever a cop used PredPol to generate a ‘hot list’ the software also generated a map of the most recent movements of any vehicle associated with each person on the hot list.”
The document, a “performance of work statement” made as part of the contract with ICE, was obtained by journalist Asher Stockler through a public records request and shared with The Intercept. LexisNexis Risk Solutions, a subsidiary of LexisNexis’s parent company, inked the contract with ICE, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, in 2021.
“LexisNexis Risk Solutions prides itself on the responsible use of data, and the contract with the Department of Homeland Security encompasses only data allowed for such uses,” said LexisNexis spokesperson Jennifer Richman. She told The Intercept the company’s work with ICE doesn’t violate the law or federal policy, but did not respond to specific questions.
The document reveals that over 11,000 ICE officials, including within the explicitly deportation-oriented Enforcement and Removal Operations branch, were using LexisNexis as of 2021. “This includes supporting all aspects of ICE screening and vetting, lead development, and criminal analysis activities,” the document says.
In practice, this means ICE is using software to “automate” the hunt for suspicious-looking blips in the data, or links between people, places, and property. It is unclear how such blips in the data can be linked to immigration infractions or criminal activity, but the contract’s use of the term “automate” indicates that ICE is to some extent letting computers make consequential conclusions about human activity. The contract further notes that the LexisNexis analysis includes “identifying potentially criminal and fraudulent behavior before crime and fraud can materialize.” (ICE did not respond to a request for comment.)
LexisNexis supports ICE’s activities through a widely used data system named the Law Enforcement Investigative Database Subscription. The contract document provides the most comprehensive window yet for what data tools might be offered to a LEIDS clients. Other federal, state, and local authorities who pay a hefty subscription fee for the LexisNexis program could have access to the same powerful surveillance tools used by ICE.
The LEIDS program is used by ICE for “the full spectrum of its immigration enforcement,” according to the contract document. LexisNexis’s tools allow ICE to monitor the personal lives and mundane movements of migrants in the U.S., in search of incriminating “patterns” and for help to “strategize arrests.”
The ICE contract makes clear the extent to which LexisNexis isn’t simply a resource to be queried but a major power source for the American deportation machine.
LexisNexis is known for its vast trove of public records and commercial data, a constantly updating archive that includes information ranging from boating licenses and DMV filings to voter registrations and cellphone subscriber rolls. In the aggregate, these data points create a vivid mosaic of a person’s entire life, interests, professional activities, criminal run-ins no matter how minor, and far more….