October 12, 2011 in News
Privacy concerns might freeze program profiling terrorism suspects (Nextgov):
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is considering whether to halt part of a program that probes profiles of suspects for links to terrorist activity, after federal auditors found the scope of the initiative violates privacy guidelines, federal officials said Tuesday evening.
The Pattern Analysis and Information Collection program, or ICEPIC, lets agents search data on individuals under investigation to find nonobvious relationships that could indicate illegal activities or terrorist plots. Within a couple of months after ICEPIC’s launch in 2008, ICE expanded the $150 million program with a new service to let outside analysts also conduct inquiries. But a privacy review that dictates how the program must handle personal information prohibited external access, stated a Government Accountability Office report released Friday.
The service “provides functionality that is explicitly excluded in the approved privacy impact assessment,” David A. Powner, GAO director for information technology and management issues, wrote in the report. The study examined privacy protections for data-mining programs throughout ICE’s parent agency, the Homeland Security Department.
Three years ago, ICE turned on the new feature to let other federal, state and local law enforcement authorities search ICEPIC online. The agency, however, neglected to inform overseers or the public about the privacy risks of doing so, because ICE never updated the privacy assessment, as required by law, according to the report.
GAO officials recommended that Homeland Security “investigate whether the information sharing component of ICEPIC, called the Law Enforcement Information Sharing Service, should be deactivated until a [privacy assessment] that includes this component is approved.”
- Stores over 332,000,000 records on more than 254,000,000 entities
- Allows “disparate sources of information to be analyzed to find previously unknown relationship data about individuals that are the subject of active investigation”
- Usage of the system more than doubled from August 2010 to February 2011
The ICE Pattern Analysis and Information Collection (ICEPIC) system was established in 2008 to enable ICE law enforcement agents and analysts to look for non-obvious relationship patterns among individuals and organizations that are indicative of violations of the customs and immigration laws that are enforced by DHS agencies, as well as possible terrorist threats and plots. From these relationships, ICE agents develop specific leads and intelligence for active and new investigations. Identified relationships are also recorded for reuse in subsequent investigative analyses. The information processed by ICEPIC comes from existing ICE investigative and apprehension records systems, as well as immigration and alien admission records systems. ICEPIC includes capabilities that assist investigators in recording results of analyses performed in support of investigations and in capturing additional relevant information obtained from outside sources. The information collected by, on behalf of, in support of, or in cooperation with DHS and its components may contain personally identifiable information collected by other Federal, State, local, tribal, foreign government agencies, or international organizations.
ICEPIC is a set of information analysis tools which allow disparate sources of information to be analyzed to find previously unknown relationship data about individuals who are the subject of ongoing and valid investigations. Relationship data is made up of information about how a place, person, or thing (e.g., automobile or other piece of property) relates to other persons, places, or things. For example, ICEPIC can determine relationship data about how certain events occurred at a certain address, or certain individuals under investigation who have shared the same address in the past. ICEPIC also includes capabilities that assist investigators in recording results of analyses performed in support of investigations. All ICEPIC searches are conducted with the appropriate predicate for a search, i.e., ongoing investigation into a violation of law.
Information in the ICEPIC System
The information in ICEPIC consists of the biographical and biometric information obtained from individuals during DHS enforcement encounters or provided by individuals when applying for U.S. immigration benefits or admission to the U.S. Biographical data includes name, aliases, date of birth, phone numbers, addresses, and nationality; biometric information includes fingerprints and photographs. Prior law enforcement encounter information consists of data related to an individual’s case, including immigration history, alien registration information, and other identification or record numbers.
Agents/analysts may consult commercial data providers in order to verify information within ICEPIC. As a specific example, an agent/analyst investigating a lead may encounter a gap in residential addresses for a particular individual. The agent/analyst may consult a commercial data provider to search for the missing address. How much weight to give the information from commercial data provider is left to the professional discretion of the agent/analyst.
The ICEPIC system retains records for ten (10) years from ICE’s last use of the individual’s data, and then archives the information for an additional five (5) years. After the five (5) year period, information is destroyed unless it has become relevant to a legal action, at which point the retention schedule would reset.
Based on the need to know, ICE may share analytical reports generated from ICEPIC information with other parts of DHS including both law enforcement and intelligence agencies. These may include: the DHS Operations Center, U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Transportation Security Administration, and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis. Organizations will only receive the information which they are authorized to receive.
Related Material From the Archive:
- (U//FOUO) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Information Sharing Overview
- ICE Pattern Analysis and Information Collection (ICEPIC) System
- South Florida Immigration and Customs Enforcment Chief Arrested for Child Pornography
- DHS Terrorist Watchlist Service Privacy Impact Assessment
- GAO Report: DHS Data Mining Systems Do Not Ensure Protection of Privacy
- DHS Trying to Make New Terrorist “Watchlist Service” Exempt from Privacy Act
- Fusion Center “Privacy and Civil Rights Framework” Enhancement
- TransUnion Corporation Sale of Consumer Credit Information Privacy Litigation Decision 2002