A Canadian data broker and information services provider that provides systems and databases to the US immigration authorities for tracking and targeting immigrant communities
Thomson Reuters is a data broker and information services provider headquartered in Toronto. In addition to its news agency Reuters News, the company sells subscription-based information, software, and managed services to the legal, tax, accounting, educational, and law enforcement sectors. The company reported a $5.9 billion revenue in 2020.
Thomson Reuters provides access to massive databases of personal information to U.S. government agencies, including the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS). From 2007 to 2021, the company was directly awarded more than 7,500 U.S. federal worth at least $1.5 billion. Its products are also provided through third parties such as Thundercat Technology and Sterling Computers Corporation.
Thomson Reuters supports the data gathering apparatus of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) by selling them database subscriptions through two of its subsidiaries, Thomson Reuters Special Services (TRSS) and West Publishing Corporation. Since 2004, the company has provided ICE and CBP with databases containing legal information, license plate data, and a broad range of other personal information.
The company’s flagship product for law enforcement is called Consolidated Lead Evaluation And Reporting (CLEAR). ICE first contracted Thomson Reuters subsidiary West Publishing for access to CLEAR in 2010, and CBP’s usage of CLEAR started in 2014. Until 2021, the two agencies paid West Publishing a combined $29 million for access to this database.
CLEAR provides a vast database of public and proprietary information, including DMV records, real estate ownership, utilities data, professional licenses, criminal and court records, healthcare provider content, consumer and credit bureau data, real-time incarceration and arrest records, business data, data from social media platforms, chatrooms, and blogs, and live access to over 7 billion license plate detections. ICE uses its Palantir-designed FALCON system to analyze these data, which makes it easier for the agency to “narrow in and locate persons and assets of interest.”
Until 2021, CLEAR obtained its utilities data from Equifax, whose database includes “more than 400 million names, addresses and service records from more than 80 utility companies.” In October 2021, the National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange (NCTUE), a consortium of U.S. telecom and utility providers, directed Equifax to stop selling its utility data to third parties, including CLEAR. This policy affects data collected after its implementation, but CLEAR still holds its existing data from October 2021 and earlier and can still provide it to government agencies. CLEAR also includes Equifax’s personal credit data, including name, address, Social Security Number, and other personal information of some 352 million people.
Another service that Thomson Reuters provides ICE is a subscription to a “continuous monitoring and alert service that provides real-time jail booking data to support the identification and location” of immigrants. ICE’s Detention Compliance and Removal office awarded Thomson Reuters Special Services a $6.7 million contract for this service in 2018, renewing an earlier 2016 $1.5 million no-bid award to provide an earlier iteration of this service.
In addition to providing real-time arrest and jail-booking data, this system is capable of tracking 500,000 identities per month and cataloging arrested persons’ vehicle registration information, insurance claims, credit history, payday loans, public court records, employer records, wire transfers, and Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers.
This subscription service is alarming for a number of reasons, including the number of people ICE would keep under continuous surveillance, the breadth of data sources (at least 17) it pulls into one central repository, and the fact that this work was outsourced to a for-profit company.
Thomson Reuters Special Services also provides ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit with the Law Enforcement Investigative Database Subscription (LEIDS), “a robust analytical research tool for its in-depth exploration of persons of interest and vehicles.” ICE awarded the company this $22 million contract In May 2021.
ICE also uses license plate reader data, which is provided by Motorola Solutions subsidiary Vigilant Solutions, a commercial partner of Thomson Reuters. In 2017, ICE awarded West Publishing a $7.4 million contract for these data.
Apart from contracting directly with ICE, Thomson Reuters provides personal and proprietary information to local and state law enforcement agencies that have information-sharing agreements with ICE. For example, Thomson Reuters CLEAR entered In 2017 into an agreement for integrated access with Forensic Logic, manufacturer of COPLINK and LEAP, two data systems used by local, regional, and state law enforcement agencies that facilitate data sharing with ICE.
Thomson Reuters has also been a corporate partner of Nlets, a network of state law enforcement agencies that feed data into the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, which ICE agents query to identify and target immigrants.
Responding in 2018 to questions about the services it provides ICE, TRSS CEO stated that it was only helping the agency “support the rule of law” and that its “…products are not used by the Border Patrol Division for purposes of patrolling the border for undocumented immigrants or their detainment.”
ICE’s contracts with data brokers have raised concern among activists and members of Congress, who have stated that everyday activities such as utility bill payments now give immigration authorities access to the address, vehicle location, and other personal information. Congressional members have pointed out that the sale of utility data is not only an abuse of privacy but, when used by agencies such as ICE, it is also an abuse of power.
Although headquartered in Canada, Thomson Reuters spent $6.2 million in lobbying expenses in the U.S. from 1999 to August 2021. It has tried to influence issues such as federal privacy legislation, court record management systems, and data security.
TRSS President Jim Dinkins was a long-time ICE executive before joining Thomson Reuters, helping to create the agency’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division in 2010. This is the division of ICE that leads workplace investigations and raids, which quadrupled under the Trump administration.
TRSS CEO Stephen Rubley was previously a board member of the ICE Foundation, a non-profit that supports ICE employees and holds events at ICE headquarters, according to the organization’s federal tax filings.
- On April 23, 2019 Berkeley City Council passed Sanctuary Contracting Ordinance on Tuesday after months of postponement. It is designed to prevent the city from entering into contracts with businesses that act as data brokers or provide extreme vetting services to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This would likely include Thomson Reuters who is listed as an ICE Data Broker by the #DeportICE Data Broker public campaign.