In what appears to be a conflict of interest, the media company is facing criticism for facilitating the deportation of migrants and asylum seekers in the US.
While global media giant Reuters has journalists reporting on stories like deportations and the aftermath of family separation, its parent company, Thomson Reuters, has been working closely with US immigration enforcement to enable them to track, arrest and deport immigrants on a daily basis.
Thomson Reuters has held 80 contracts with ICE worth US$75 million since 2015, and currently holds seven agreements with them worth US$50 million. It has been offering a software, CLEAR® product, that collects billions of data points and public records information that is used by law firms and law enforcement agencies, including ICE.
The software also enables background checks on desired targets by allowing access to their addresses, credit scores, phone records, social media posts, healthcare provider information and license plate recognition.
Neither Thomson Reuters nor ICE responded to requests for comment. However, a Reuters report published last week quoting Thomson Reuters spokesman Dave Moran as saying that a contract to provide the CLEAR online investigation software to ICE had expired in February.
A media company amassing profits from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) growth is concerning. The practice violates journalistic ethics, raising an ethical question of whether Reuters can report on critical human rights issues on migration and surveillance if its parent company is part of the system that facilitates it?
The Thomson-Reuters software is terrifying.— Mijente 🐜🐜🐜 (@ConMijente) March 14, 2019
It can uses data to "build a full picture of a subject, witness, or business" for gov. agencies like ICE.
It advertises real-time booking information, billions of license plate records, cellphone data, & more. https://t.co/ys7iWLepVp pic.twitter.com/Vi6SFsMJe0
Emma Pullman, the British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union’s (BCGEU), Capital Stewardship Officer, noted that Thomson Reuters was increasingly becoming a technology company and moving into software-as-a-service (SaaS) and away from its traditional publishing and media offerings.
The BCGEU, a trade union in British Columbia, hence filed a shareholder proposal asking again for a human rights audit that went to a vote on Wednesday last week.
This particular shareholder proposal was filed under Canadian corporate law and submitted to Thomson Reuters in mid-February 2020. That proposal received about seven and a half percent of the vote last year, which translates to just under 30 percent of the independent shareholder vote.
This year, the BCGEU filed the proposal again after Thomson Reuters announced that it was pivoting its business from a content provider to a content-driven technology company.
Although the proposal won 19 percent of the votes on Wednesday, Pullman called it a success.
“The average person looking at this vote might see a proposal that failed to pass, but given the company is almost 70 percent controlled by the Thomson Family, I see this is an overwhelming success,” she told TRT World.
“This vote makes it clear that investors will use their voice when companies are asked to take reasonable and entirely achievable steps towards the protection of human rights. We believe the company is going to have to respond to that.”
Emma also noted that while other companies under SaaS have adopted the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP), Thomson Reuters have not.
It is however a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact, which requires its signatories to not be complicit in human rights abuses.
So the BCGEU’s shareholder proposal asked the Thomson Reuters board to consider adopting UNGPs and to review whether its contracts with ICE complied with the UN Global Compact.
“Thomson Reuters is a technology company by its own admission and should have a human rights framework that is informed by the UNGPs. That's fundamentally what our proposal asked for.”
Angelo Guisado, the staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the influence multinational corporations “exert over our day-to-day lives - out of scrutiny normally reserved for government actors - has poisoned the well”.
1\ ICE just inked a multimillion dollar deal with data broker Thomson Reuters Special Services (TRSS) for access to scans of American drivers' license plates for immigration enforcement purposes.https://t.co/lxdrN7FdlP pic.twitter.com/YTDDaFsVcD— Georgetown Privacy (@GeorgetownCPT) June 8, 2021
“This is not the first time Thomson Reuters’ actions have raised eyebrows. We filed a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request in September 2020 to obtain information regarding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE’s relationship with Thomson Reuters, including the use of information technology and data services for surveillance, intelligence gathering, and database management activities conducted as part of DHS and ICE’s immigration enforcement operations,” Angelo Guisado, the staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told TRT World.
“To the extent, they are continuing to operate within the public sphere over matters as dire as deportation, the public deserves to know about it.”
There are more than 1,000 documented cases of such retaliation and according to rights organisations, it continues to happen under US President Joe Biden administration.
Under the Biden administration, ICE officers are to prioritise arresting and prosecuting people who have recently crossed the border illegally, as well as felons and undocumented immigrants who pose a national security threat.
Under the Trump administration, ICE played a huge role in raids and deportations of undocumented immigrants.
“The United States, in particular, uses deportation as a tactic to ethnically cleanse America, continuing a historic trend. Indeed, most of our immigration laws harken to eras in which racial quotas, ethnic preferencing, and eugenics were the norm,” Angelo Guisado, the staff attorney, said.
“Instead, it is time to recognize immigrants as deserving of safe haven and dignity like everyone else, irrespective of the country from which they arrived, the length of time in the US, or their purported criminal histories.”
‘Embedded in ICE offices’
The BCGEU said Thomson Reuters have several contracts with ICE and the Department of Homeland Security that are active to date. Its employees are also directly embedded in ICE offices.
“They help track social media accounts to target immigration activists through what they call 'risk mitigation services',” Emma said.
According to BCGEU, basic constitutional protections in the US prohibit the government from collecting this data, but those protections do not apply to agencies purchasing that data from third parties. In other words, immigration agents who cannot legally collect immigrants’ names and addresses can simply buy them from Thomson Reuters.
“Right now, Thomson Reuters is profiting off of families being ripped apart and the critical role that data brokers like Thomson Reuters play is a growing concern from a human rights perspective,” Emma told TRT World.
The Thomson family owns a two-thirds controlling share in the company which could mean that a vote might not pass, but Emma says “this is an ongoing and iterative process”.
“We will continue to speak to the company about human rights and other issues that come up. But we see this as kind of the starting point of ongoing dialogue with the company.”