Facebook Used to Sting Undocumented Immigrants
November 6, 2019
According to several published reports, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have been using fake Facebook accounts for surveillance of undocumented immigrants. This information is being used to lure the unsuspecting parties into raids, including several arrests last summer in Oregon.
A New York Times article described how ICE agents used social media to contact an undocumented female immigrant who was later deported. The story explained how she created a Facebook post in a private buy/sell/trade group for a piñata she made with her daughters that she was hoping to sell. A Facebook account showing a Hispanic name answered, and the woman arranged a meeting time and place. After she arrived, however, there were two ICE agents who subsequently handcuffed her. She was sent to a private detention center and, three weeks later, she was deported to Mexico and the Facebook account had been deleted.
ICE has allegedly used similar tactics as far back as 2015, creating a fake school called the University of Farmington. It was supposedly located in Michigan, and fake Facebook profiles were also created and tied to it. Over 600 students were caught up in the scam, as the website stated that foreign students were able to enroll. It also had fake staff members and government documents. The students were later indicted, accused of knowing the school did not really exist and enrolling to remain in the country illegally.
The Pew Research Center states that there are 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in this country, and 6,100 ICE officers. The agency is also responsible for all 50 states, encompassing an area of close to four million square miles. This pressure leads to staff shortages and frustrated employees, who may try to save time and money to do their jobs. Social media and other technologies are resources that may increase efficiencies, even if using them goes against certain policies.
Facebook and ICE Policies
Business Insider also reported on this story, and Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comments. The sting operations violate Facebook’s policy that prohibits inauthentic behaviors such as fake accounts and attempts to mislead people. A company spokesperson did state that they act when fake profiles are discovered, but law enforcement agencies are still using them. As for now, it is not clear if Facebook knows about ICE’s profiles or if they are taking any actions against them.
ICE responded by stating that it is a policy not to comment on investigative techniques, tactics, or tools. Public records do show that ICE, along with other federal agencies, mines information from social networks, computer systems, and private data brokers. The regulations for all this are limited and follow outmoded privacy laws.
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