The reporters at Reuters have been providing crucial, unfliching coverage of the cruel treatment of would-be immigrants under policies pushed by President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the news agency’s parent company, Thomson Reuters, has been supplying U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with data from its vast stores as part of federal contracts worth close to $30 million. A letter from a Thomson Reuters executive shows that the company is ready to defend at least one of those contracts while remaining silent on the rest.
Last week, advocacy and watchdog group Privacy International wrote to Thomson Reuters CEO James Smith to “express concern” over contracts between ICE and two of the company’s subsidiaries. Thomson Reuters Special Services sells ICE “a continuous monitoring and alert service that provides real-time jail booking data to support the identification and location of aliens” as part of a $6.7 million contract, and West Publishing, another subsidiary, provides ICE’s “Detention Compliance and Removals” office with access to a vast license-plate scanning database, along with agency access to the Consolidated Lead Evaluation and Reporting, or CLEAR, system, which Thomson Reuters advertises as holding a “vast collection of public and proprietary records.” The two West contracts are together worth $26 million.
The Privacy International letter cites the practice by U.S. authorities of separating children from their parents, as well as the Trump administration’s overall “zero tolerance” approach to immigration violations. The children — thousands of them — are typically intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection with their parents; the parents are then detained by ICE while the children, having been forcibly separated, are held in conditions that some have described in horrifying terms, under the supervision of Health and Human Services. (ICE agents have also been accused of sexual abusing hundreds of detainees, underhanded arrest tactics, and more.)
Privacy International’s letter requested that Thomson Reuters “commit to not providing products or services to U.S. immigration agencies which may be used to enforce such cruel, arbitrary, and disproportionate measures.”
So far, the only response has come from Thomson Reuters Special Services CEO Stephen Rubley, who, in a letter passed on to The Intercept, replied that his parent company “provides products and services to many parts of the U.S. government in support of the rule of law,” and pointed Privacy International to the corporation’s “Trust Principles,” which make no mention of the acceptability or unacceptability of providing data services to the agency — though Trust Principle No. 5 does state, tellingly, that “no effort shall be spared to expand, develop, and adapt the news and other services and products so as to maintain its leading position in the international news and information business.”
NBC News previously reported that Rubley is “on the board of the ICE Foundation, a nonprofit that ‘supports the men and women of ICE.'”
Rubley’s response continues by stating that TRSS does not provide data directly to those who are responsible for the separating children from their parents:
In the case of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, we have considered who in that organization should be granted access to our products and for what specific purposes. Thomson Reuters Special Services provides the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency with products that support active investigations and priority cases involving threats to public safety and/or national security.
Our products are not used by the Border Patrol Division for purposes of patrolling the border for undocumented immigrants or their detainment.
Rubley also claimed that every TRSS “customer must certify its specific legally permissible uses prior to being granted access to any data,” and that “we take our role as a good corporate citizen extremely seriously, and we have well-documented evidence of the positive role our data systems can make to a society.” This defense, even if accurate, completely elides any criticism of ICE on the basis of general inhumanity, as opposed to illegality.
In a new second letter to Reuters’s CEO provided to The Intercept, Privacy International makes clear that the response from the company so far “does not address any of our specific questions,” and that Privacy International is “disappointed to have so far not received a response from West Publishing Corporation, or from Thomson Reuters itself.”
In response to a request for more information about Thomson Reuters’ overall corporate relationship with ICE and West Publishing’s work for the agency specifically, a company spokesperson replied saying only that Thomson Reuters Special Services “products are not used by the Border Patrol Division for purposes of patrolling the border for undocumented immigrants or their detainment,” again making no mention of West Publishing. The spokesperson declined to comment on whether Thomson Reuters would pursue further business with an agency involved in separating children from their parents.