Wednesday, December 21, 2011

DHS shares immigration-related data with state and local governments, and with Mexico

DHS has enhanced the ways in which it shares immigration-related information with state and local law enforcement agencies in the United States, and with the Mexican government, which maintains the Plataforma Mexico, a highly-protected system used by Mexico for law enforcement, criminal justice and intelligence purposes.

Inside the United States, the Department of Homeland Security has developed a “Law Enforcement Information Sharing Service,” known as the LEIS Service, which allows state and local police departments -- and other regional law enforcement agencies -- to request federal records related to “persons of interest,” including suspects in child pornography, drug smuggling, immigration fraud, alien smuggling, and much more. This data is gathered by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unit within DHS and stored in a system called the ICE Pattern Analysis and Information Collection, or ICEPIC, system.

Government Security News reported on the goals and methodologies of ICEPIC in an article it published on January 30, 2008.

The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 authorizes certain information available through ICEPIC to be shared between DHS and state and local law enforcement agencies in both directions. “The LEIS Service enables law enforcement agencies outside DHS to query certain information available through ICEPIC,” explains a privacy impact assessment issued last October by Mary Ellen Callahan, the chief privacy officer at DHS. “Additionally, DHS law enforcement personnel are able to query external law enforcement agencies’ sensitive but unclassified law enforcement information.”

This “bi-directional” information sharing has become a hot topic in recent months as numerous state governments, such as those in New York, Massachusetts and Illinois, have openly objected to the practice of local police departments accessing DHS databases to determine whether individuals they have arrested and jailed locally, may be wanted by ICE for alleged immigration-related offenses. More specifically, DHS has recently suspended its information-sharing protocols with Maricopa County in Arizona after the U.S. Department of Justice released a major report last week that outlined the many ways in which Maricopa County’s controversial sheriff, Joe Arpaio, has allegedly violated the civil rights of many Latino residents -- both legal and illegal -- on a routine basis, over many years.

The information compiled in the ICEPIC database consists of DHS investigative and apprehension records as well as immigration benefit and admission records. State and local law enforcement agencies are allowed to conduct “single queries,” based on an individual’s name or specific identifying number, but they are not allowed to engage in “fishing expeditions,” which are known in bureaucratese as “batch queries.” Also, state and local law enforcement agencies can obtain information from ICEPIC that has not been reviewed by a DHS employee, but they are not allowed to submit such records in a court of law as a “certified copy,” until the appropriate DHS employee has scrutinized the material and properly certified it, explains the privacy assessment document.

Another privacy impact assessment issued by DHS last November described the mission of the “Enforcement Integrated Database,” or EID, which maintains data on investigations, arrests, bookings, detentions and the removal of individuals from the United States, which have been conducted by ICE, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), all units of DHS.

Beginning with the publication of this privacy impact assessment in November, the U.S. Government began sharing its criminal history information -- about homicides, rapes, drug sales, kidnappings, weapons trafficking and terrorist threats -- with the Mexican Government by “direct circuit connection,” rather than simply sending the data to Mexico via email.

“Upon publication of this PIA Update, the email transmission will continue and the same information contained in the email will also be transmitted over a circuit connection running from ICE into the Embassy of Mexico [presumably in Washington, DC], where it is routed to the Plataforma Mexico system,” says the DHS notice.

“The direct circuit connection increases the speed with which the information may be shared and increases efficiency,” the assessment adds.


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