ICE Caught Apparently Using Private Facebook Data to Hunt Suspects (UPDATED)

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UPDATE, 3/27, 10:12 AM: The Intercept published a major correction to its report on Monday which claimed that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was using private Facebook data to track immigrants. The site said that, because of editing errors, it had incorrectly asserted that ICE had used Facebook to target an immigrant in a particular case.


“The documents reported on in the story do not establish that the target of the investigation was an immigrant or that the individual was being pursued for immigration violations. The target of the investigation was, according to the documents, based in the New York metropolitan area, while several of the ICE agents on the emails were based in New Mexico,” the correction read in part.

In addition, Facebook told The Intercept that the case it had written about stemmed from a legal request regarding an active child predator, and that “ICE did not identify any immigration law violations in connection with its data request to Facebook in this case.”

Immigration officials have been using Facebook data to identify when and where immigrants logged onto their accounts, according to a new report in The Intercept.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have been known to use content like pictures that users post on Facebook in investigations, but not private data. The revelation comes as Facebook is being heavily questioned about how it protects user data in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Emails obtained by The Intercept through a public records request show Homeland Security officials were able to “obtain backend Facebook data revealing a log of when the account was accessed and the IP addresses corresponding to each login,” according to the site’s Lee Fang.


In one email thread, an agent with Homeland Security Investigations looking for a man in New Mexico said he could combine “Facebook Business Record” data with “IP address information back from T-Mobile.” Another agent followed up saying she would send the data to Palantir, the controversial data analytics firm.

“I am going to see if our Palantir guy is here to dump the Western Union info in there since I know there is a way to triangulate the area he’s sending money from and narrow down time of day etc,” an ICE agent said in the email thread.


It’s unclear whether ICE was able to detain the New Mexico man but the emails show how bits of data collected from different sources can be used to identify and track individuals.

Matthew Bourke, a spokesperson for ICE, told The Intercept that the agency would not “comment on investigative techniques or tactics other than to say that during the course of a criminal investigation, we have the ability to seek subpoenas and court orders to legally compel a company to provide information that may assist in case completion and subsequent prosecution.”


The Department of Homeland Security last September announced it plans to ramp up tracking of social media accounts that belong to immigrants.

In the notice published in published in the Federal Register, DHS said it would track “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results.”


Read the full investigation at The Intercept.

Senior staff writer