Finding Immigration Violations from Utility Bills

February 7, 2021

ICE offices have recently tapped into a once-private database (with millions of phone, electricity, and utility records) to find undocumented immigrants. The database, called CLEAR, contains 400 million names, addresses, and services from over 80 companies.

This situation is just another instance of how government agencies have exploited commercial sources to supplement their surveillance efforts with the information they are not authorized to access on their own. ICE uses this information to pursue undocumented immigrants who may have stayed off the grid by avoiding activities like getting a driver’s license but cannot live without paying for utilities for their home.

Who else uses CLEAR?

CLEAR, which is run by Thomson Reuters and based on data from Equifax, is also used by a number of other organizations including:

  • Police in Detroit
  • A credit union in California
  • A fraud investigator in the Midwest

Concerns surrounding ICE's use of CLEAR

“There needs to be a line drawn in defense of people’s basic dignity. And when the fear of deportation could endanger their ability to access these basic services, that line is being crossed,” states Nina Wang, a policy associate at the Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology. “It’s a massive betrayal of people’s trust. … When you sign up for electricity, you don’t expect them to send immigration agents to your front door.”