On Thursday, Latinx grassroots activist group Mijente released documents and information showing financial conglomerate Thomson Reuters is intimately involved in Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations. Ahead of the company's June 3 annual shareholder meeting, the British Columbia Government & Service Employees' Union (BCGEU)—one of Thomas Reuters' major shareholders—is putting forward a proposal that would likely end such contracts.
BCGEU warns in the proposal that ICE relies on the company to "track and arrest immigrants on a massive scale" and that these activities violate not only the ethical “Trust Principles” that Thomson Reuters stakes its reputation on but international human rights law.
“Based on what we know, Thomson Reuters has neither assessed nor mitigated the serious human rights risks of providing software to ICE and there’s no excuse for that,” Stephanie Smith, BCGEU told Motherboard. "Simply put: Thomson Reuters can do better—a lot better—and our proposal is one way we are going to make sure they do.”
Thomson Reuters, which owns the news wire service Reuters, and its subsidiaries collectively hold $60 million in active ICE contracts that establish the company as a data provider for the agency. Thomson Reuters’ CLEAR software collates data from a wide range of sources and gives ICE access to utility bills, DMV and property records, social media posts, criminal and court records, business and healthcare data, cell phone records, and license plate scans. With this data, ICE has been able to terrorize undocumented immigrants.
The company’s leadership also has ties to the federal agency: Thomson Reuters Special Services CEO Stephen Rubley sits on the board of the ICE Foundation—a non-profit that "supports the men and women of ICE,” while TRSS President James Dinkins worked with ICE since its creation in 2003 and in 2010 established Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a division integral to Trump’s deportation machine.
Mijente found that Thomson Reuters provides its own analysts to ICE, who help the federal agency tailor operations and create target lists of specific individuals. For ICE, TRSS employees are expected to track "daily address changes and credit activities of targeted persons" as well as "securely return to ICE, from publicly available and commercial sources available to the contractor, any information that identifies the possible location of the target and changes in the target's identifiers."
When laying out the requirements of the contract, the document emphasizes the need for TRSS employees: “Specifically, [Enforcement and Removal Operations] data must be analyzed internally [by the contractor] by both automation and trained analysts with research support tools to provide the best leads possible and to reduce the number of false positives forwarded to the [Targeting Operations Division].” ERO carries out detentions and deportations within ICE while TOD is responsible for collecting as much data as possible.
In the past, a Thomson Reuters spokesperson downplayed its relationship with ICE and said its services were "explicitly in support of its work on active criminal investigations and priority cases involving threats to national security or public safety." A 2016 contract with ICE characterizes Thomson Reuters’ services as “mission critical.”
This refrain is a familiar one—Palantir’s CEO, Alex Karp, denied for years that his company assisted ICE with anything other than national security or public safety operations, before admitting this year that Palantir was actively involved in family separations. And like Palantir, there are concerns that Thomson Reuters tools are being used to retaliate against undocumented immigrants—a $4 million "risk mitigation services" contract ostensibly allows ICE to track potential threats against agents but Mijente states "are frequently used to retaliate against undocumented immigrant activists and others who protest ICE's activities."
In an interview with Motherboard, Mijente field director Jactina Gonzalez described the tech industry’s relationship with ICE as a pipeline: “At the first level, you have to get basic data on people—that's where Thomson Reuters comes in as a data broker to buy data from different sources, package it up nicely, then sell it over to ICE. But then this information has to be used for different types of investigations, like workplace raids or neighborhood sweeps—that's where Palantir typically comes in to process and analyze this data for ICE. And, of course, where are they gonna store all this information? That's where Amazon Web Services comes in as the cloud storage that’s hosting all this software and information for ICE.”
For years, Mijente has organized a #NoTechForIce campaign that is applying pressure to technology companies that enable and empower ICE’s deportation regime. Currently, the group is inviting individuals and groups to join its lawyer letter demanding Thomson Reuters and companies end their contracts with the federal agency.
BCGEU and its Defense Fund are demanding that the company produce a human rights risk report that address the company's "role in contributing to and being directly linked to human rights impacts by end users," how Thomson Reuters "mitigates its role in contributing to adverse human rights impacts from end users," and whether the company is adhering to "market practice" along with international law.
"Reuters is a company that made its brand all about ethics and trust, that has Trust Principles, that moderates conferences and hosts events and runs the Ethical Corporation,” Nina Gardener, an Adjunct Professor teaching business and human rights at John Hopkins SAIS, told Motherboard. “This was very alarming to learn, especially once you do some research and see how little of their business is media while nearly all of it deals with data services. ICE does not follow any human rights guidelines—they're arresting and deporting asylum seekers yet there's an international right to asylum.”
Thomson Reuters’s board of directors, however, is calling on shareholders to reject the proposal. It said “the Board believes that producing a human rights risk report in the form contemplated by the proposal is not in the best interests of Thomson Reuters or its shareholders.”
Thomson Reuters did not respond to Motherboard’s requests for comment.