A database listing the names and locations of employees working for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—pulled from publicly-available information on LinkedIn—was removed from major web platforms on Tuesday, just hours after its publication by programmer and artist Sam Lavigne.
GitHub, a site for coders to collaborate on open source projects, removed Lavigne’s repository, which featured a user interface for scanning the scraped data, including ICE employees’ self-provided photos, job descriptions, and work history. "We removed the project because it violates our community guidelines,” a GitHub spokesperson wrote Motherboard in an email. “In general, we have policies against use of GitHub for doxxing and harassment, and violating a third party's privacy."
Medium also removed Lavigne's original blog post, which linked to the database and explained the rationale behind the project. Lavigne told Motherboard on Tuesday that he created the database in an effort to increase transparency about the individuals carrying out the Trump administration’s family separation and child detention program, which has drawn fire from the UN Human Rights Commission. Lavigne’s use of public data mirrors a 2015 project by Transparency Toolkit, which scraped LinkedIn for information about National Security Agency employees. Medium spokespeople did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
A Twitter account named "ICE Human Resources," which tweeted out names, job descriptions and profile pictures taken from Lavigne's database, was suspended by Twitter, according to a screenshot shared on Twitter by its creator Russel Neiss. Twitter spokespeople were not immediately available to comment.
The information was taken from public LinkedIn profiles using a custom script, and so did not include street addresses or telephone numbers, although frequently did include location information at the town or city level. Critics on Twitter accused Lavigne of "doxxing" the employees and called his project “misguided.” Fox News even covered the response.
ICE spokespeople were not immediately available to comment.
GitHub also appears to be taking down repositories that mirror Lavigne’s database, not just Lavigne’s own page. While Lavigne's original GitHub repository was online, I "forked" it, or made my own copy on GitHub This morning my own copy of the repository was deactivated. When I reached out to GitHub support to question the removal of data—which was of use for journalistic research—I received a response stating simply: "In general, whenever a repository is disabled for a Terms of Service violation, its forks are also disabled. "
A mirror of Lavigne’s original repository was posted to GitLab, an alternative code hosting website, but at the time of writing that repository is offline. GitLab spokespeople were not immediately available to comment.
LinkedIn—the social network for employment where Lavigne sourced his data—is currently engaged in a legal battle to prevent third parties from scraping information on its site.
“We oppose how US immigration authorities are separating families at the border, but we can’t allow the illegal use of our member data,” LinkedIn spokesperson MK Juric wrote Motherboard in an email. “We will take appropriate action to ensure our members’ data is protected and used properly." Juric clarified that LinkedIn did not request that Lavigne’s database be taken offline, and that GitHub and Medium acted on their own.
Online commentators remarked on the speed with which action was taken against Lavigne’s pages, while forms of abuse against him were allowed to persist. In the wake of the publication of the database, many tweets addressed to Lavigne contained threats of violence.
Additional reporting by Jordan Pearson.
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