Amid the Facebook data breach scandal, emails obtains by the Intercept reveal that Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) has been using private Facebook information to monitor immigrants. Last fall, the Department of Homeland Security expanded its record systems of immigrants to include social media profiles and other searchable public information, but this new report exposes a latent invasion of private information by ICE.
In the report, emails show how agents used Facebook data including account access log, IP addresses, phone numbers, and location tracking to locate users. One email shows how ICE can combine Facebook information with "IP address information back from T-Mobile," resulting in expedited subpoenas to the phone company. Another email showed an agent's attempt to triangulate a user's location by using Facebook information, combined with help from their “Palantir guy,” Palantir being the Peter Theil-helmed data firm, to find the user's Western Union transactions. “We have the ability to seek subpoenas and court orders to legally compel a company to provide information that may assist in case completion and subsequent prosecution,” ICE spokesperson Matthew Bourke told the Intercept.
A Facebook spokesperson shared a statement with the Intercept stating that ICE doesn’t have unique access to the private data, but accesses it through government requests. “Facebook does not provide ICE or any other law enforcement agency with any special data access to assist with the enforcement of immigration law. We have strict processes in place to handle these government requests,” the statement from Facebook read. “Every request we receive is checked for legal sufficiency. We require officials to provide a detailed description of the legal and factual basis for their request, and we push back when we find legal deficiencies or overly broad or vague demands for information.”
Facebook is facing increasing scrutiny about how it handles user data and private information following the breach involving Cambridge Analytica. The company has yet to face severe scrutiny, however, for its role in aiding ICE’s ability to track and deport users. According to Intercept, private Facebook information was accessed by ICE last year to obtain the cellphone number of an unauthorized immigrant in Detroit. ICE used the number to track down the undocumented immigrant they were pursuing.
In a semiannual report, Facebook showed that it received 32,716 requests for data on 52,280 users and complied with 85 percent of the requests. Approximately 57 percent of those requests were accompanied by non-disclosure orders, meaning Facebook couldn’t tell users when the government was accessing their private information.