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ICE, CBP sued for details on migrant data sharing agreements

Access Now wants border agencies to answer questions about biometrics collection
ICE, CBP sued for details on migrant data sharing agreements

Digital rights advocacy group Access Now is suing the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies over delays in responding to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A release on the organization’s website says the requests are meant to “clarify a number of concerns regarding the opaque and dangerous cross-border exchange of personal data of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and other people on the move, between the United States and various Latin American countries.”

Access Now has requested the full text of any data-sharing agreements between the U.S. and any government in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as “records describing any biometric database used in conjunction with any other government under any data-sharing agreements” and “records describing the intended, permitted, limited, or prohibited uses of biometric data of people on the move.”

Ángela Alarcón, a campaigner for Latin America and the Caribbean region for Access Now, says it is “unacceptable that ICE and CBP have not retrieved any meaningful information since we requested it in 2022.”

“To what extent is there profiling or automated decision-making?” asks Alarcón. “How many people have access to migrants’ sensitive data? The opaqueness around this and other questions endangers the privacy of those on the move and their chances to build their future safely.”

CBP One app continues to raise the ire of rights groups

Central to the group’s concern is the CBP One app, which has been criticized for plans to collect biometrics from non-resident aliens leaving the United States. A biometric selfie image with location data is intended to serve as evidence that an individual has actually departed the country. But the risks of mass surveillance looms, say opponents, who also question what gives the U.S. the authority to collect geolocated biometrics from people who are technically not in the country.

A FOIA request from Access Now about app-based data collection, submitted in December 2022, did prompt CBP to provide links to documentation – but the rights group says it does not address the bulk of the requested info.

A separate issue is alleged data sharing agreements between ICE, Mexico and Guatemala. The customs agency says they have no records from the data sharing agreement, which was announced on their website in 2021.

“People on the move are particularly vulnerable, and the U.S. should be a sanctuary for migrants where their human rights are respected,” says Michael de Dora, U.S. policy and advocacy manager at Access Now. “Yet the Department of Homeland Security is relying on questionable data from human rights-abusing countries people have left to make decisions on their future. It’s outrageous that even a single person would be unjustly denied asylum based on these shadowy data-sharing agreements.”

The group’s lawsuit is being filed with the support of the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. Nor is Access Now the only party leveling critiques at CBP One. Earlier this month, Amnesty International said the biometric asylum app fails to provide data privacy assurances. LAst year, Al Otro Lado and the Haitian Bridge Alliance, along with ten individuals from countries including Mexico, Haiti, Nicaragua and Russia, filed a class action lawsuit against the Biden administration arguing that requiring migrants to book appointments through CBP One “cuts off access for a wide swath of migrants and asylum seekers.”

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