Immigration Authorities Want Access to All the Raw Intelligence the Feds Already Collected on You

And Donald Trump just might be the president to give ICE free rein.


Border Patrol
John Gibbins/TNS/Newscom

Now that Congress and the president have renewed and expanded federal foreign intelligence surveillance authorities to be used on Americans and people on American soil, immigration officials want in on the information.

It's not enough for Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security, and immigration officials to demand to see our papers at checkpoints and stops within the United States, to try to implement facial recognition scans at airports and entry points, to try to demand access to our phones and laptops, and to start scanning license plates. Now, the Daily Beast reports, they want to officially be treated like an intelligence agency and have greater access to information collected through secret surveillance.

While this is by no means a new push confined to the current administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) probably has the friendliest ear they've had in a while in President Donald Trump. Betsy Woodruff explains:

If ICE joins the Intelligence Community, then its officials will have increased access to raw intelligence, unfiltered by analysts. This could prove useful to both of the agency's components: Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which investigates transnational crimes, including drug trafficking, money laundering, cybercrimes, and arms trafficking; and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), which arrests and detains undocumented immigrants.

For anybody who remembers the privacy debate surrounding the renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) amendments, the list of crimes ICE investigates is very relevant. When Congress renewed Section 702, they officially gave the FBI authorization to use this foreign intelligence law to secretly snoop on American citizens in order to investigate a list of federal crimes. That authorized list aligns very nicely with the types of crimes ICE investigates.

So if ICE were to get greater access to federal intelligence, thanks to the renewal and expansion of Section 702 of FISA, immigration officials would also get additional access to secret data collected about Americans, not just immigrants.

And Section 702's renewal puts some wonky warrant rules in place. If an American citizen is suspected of a crime that ICE is investigating, officials are required to get a warrant to get access to an American's private communications. But if they are not the subject of an investigation or their communications get collected in intelligence-gathering that's not about fighting crime, they do not. So, weirdly, Americans have more due process protections from warrantless snooping if they're suspected of crimes.

For the purposes of ICE surveillance, it's very easy to imagine that an American communicating with an immigrant (here legally or not) having his or her phone calls or communications accessed without even knowing about it. So if ICE is allowed to intrude further into the realm of intelligence, that increases the number of federal officials allowed to have access to secret snooping not just of immigrants or people in foreign lands, but of Americans here at home as well.