This Programmer Scraped LinkedIn to Find People Who Work at ICE
This isn't the first time that public information sources have been scraped to shed light on government employees.
In the past few days, the tenor of opposition to the Trump administration's hardline immigration policies has changed as evidence of widespread and intentional separation of families crossing the US-Mexico border—and the detention of children—continues to emerge.
Criticism of the “zero tolerance” policy has also focused on the agency responsible for implementing it: Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a law enforcement agency created by former US President George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11. The agency is tasked with arresting, detaining, and deporting undocumented migrants. According to recent reports, almost 2,000 children were separated from their parents at the border in a period spanning from mid-April until the end of May.
To shed light on the individuals participating in the program—described as “unconscionable” by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Monday—Sam Lavigne, a New York-based artist and programmer, published a dataset of the LinkedIn profiles of 1,595 people who self-identified on the site as working for ICE. The data is available on the collaborative coding website GitHub. The data was collected using web scraping techniques, and can be browsed through an online interface or downloaded to explore in depth.
“I’ve done a lot of previous work exploring the web presence of different powerful organizations and groups of people, and I wanted to see if it would be possible to leverage LinkedIn as a source of information on ICE,” Lavigne told me in a Twitter direct message. “No one really seems willing to take responsibility for what’s happening, at any level, and I wanted to learn more about the individuals on the ground who are perpetrating the crisis.”
Lavigne’s database lists ICE employees' full names, the location they gave LinkedIn, education, and previous employment history, personal summary, and profile pictures. While some of the employees appear to be involved with administrative tasks, other entries list activities like the transport, and deportation of "criminal and non-criminal aliens" as part of their job description.
Doxing—the practice of publishing someone’s personal information online—is a controversial and sometimes dangerous practice; after the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, an online debate started about whether it is ethical to doxx Nazis. But Lavigne's project isn’t the first to use similar techniques in an effort to bring accountability to government.
In 2015, Transparency Toolkit, a group compiling open data on surveillance and human rights abuses, launched ICWATCH, a database of LinkedIn data from members of the intelligence community. That database provided insight into trends within the intelligence community, such as the increasing number of operatives specializing in "signals intelligence" (the monitoring and analysis of intercepted electronic communications) over the past decade.
Last year, LinkedIn lost a high-profile court battle to prevent third parties from scraping user data—the company appealed. That case, brought by human resources company hiQ Labs, hinged on the data having been made publicly available by LinkedIn users; LinkedIn's terms and conditions prohibit using software that "scrapes, modifies the appearance of, or automates activity" on the website.
While the legal and moral implications of sharing data in the way Lavigne has are likely to cause debate, it's a rare occasion in which agents more used to deploying large-scale surveillance find themselves on the receiving end of such techniques.
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