The Troubling Rise of Surveillance Capitalism: Biden’s Expansion of Immigrant Monitoring

In a disconcerting development under the Biden administration, the United States is witnessing an unprecedented surge in the surveillance of immigrants. This expansion is heavily reliant on technology firms like LexisNexis Risk Solutions, which profit from gathering and selling sensitive personal data without individual consent. As a result, the already fraught landscape for non-citizens and civil rights advocates is becoming even more oppressive, marked by increased fear and a chilling effect on political organizing.

Central to this growing surveillance network is LexisNexis Risk Solutions and its product, Accurint. Accurint compiles detailed profiles of nearly every U.S. resident, drawing from vast arrays of digital databases. Its scope is so broad that it includes social media behavior, familial connections, and even real-time jail booking data – a goldmine for ICE agents aiming to apprehend people upon their release.

Despite a proposed budget cut for ICE in the fiscal year 2024, both the House and Senate are pushing for significant increases. If approved, ICE would receive its largest-ever budget of over $9.1 billion, partly to expand what is already the largest surveillance system in U.S. history. This development signals a disturbing triumph of surveillance capitalism, where personal data is commodified and exploited for profit, deeply impacting the lives of non-citizens.

The Canadian conglomerate Thomson Reuters, with its CLEAR tool, is another major player in this arena. CLEAR aggregates information on millions of U.S. residents and has had a significant contract with the Department of Homeland Security. Despite criticism and pressure from activists, major data brokers like LexisNexis Risk Solutions remain committed to their lucrative contracts with ICE, disregarding the agency’s record of human rights violations.

The expansion of this surveillance network has transformed ICE’s operations. Field agents now have direct access to comprehensive information about millions of people, fostering a climate of fear and repression in immigrant communities. The chilling effect of this surveillance extends beyond the targeted individuals, impacting their families, workplaces, and communities.

Data brokers operate in a legal grey area, and their unregulated industry poses a significant threat to privacy and civil liberties. Despite this, grassroots organizations and advocates have been actively pushing back. Legal challenges like the lawsuit filed by Just Futures Law and other groups against LexisNexis Risk Solutions are essential in fighting the unauthorized collection and use of personal data.

As surveillance capitalism continues to shape immigration enforcement and broader social dynamics, the need for stringent regulations and robust public discourse on privacy rights and data protection becomes increasingly urgent. The fight against this invasive and discriminatory practice is not just about protecting non-citizens; it’s about safeguarding the fundamental freedoms and dignities of all individuals in a democratic society.