A group of Thomson Reuters shareholders says the company’s technology databases are being used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to “track and arrest immigrants on a massive scale,” potentially causing reputational damage to the company.
“Companies are facing scrutiny for contracting with government agencies carrying out the Trump administration’s inhumane family separation and indefinite family detention policies at the US-Mexico border,” states the resolution from the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) General Fund and its Defence Fund, both of which are in British Columbia, Canada (Thomson Reuters is based in Toronto). “The UN considers such separation and detention illegal under international law and has stated the practice constitutes ‘arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child.’”
According to the resolution, ICE has more than $60 million in contracts with Thomson Reuters, and the agency relies on its CLEAR software in its efforts to track undocumented immigrants. CLEAR consolidates public records across numerous databases, such as motor vehicle and arrest records, utilities, health care provider information, cellphone records, and license plate recognition, the proposal states.
“Shareholder engagement and capital stewardship are equally important for the BCGEU—we invest and manage our members’ dues responsibly in order to grow our union and we aggressively leverage our investments to demand action from companies on the issues that matter to our members and all working people,” BCGEU president Stephanie Smith wrote in an email to The Verge. “The bottom line for us is that an ethical, activist approach to investing provides superior results over the long-term from a financial and a social justice perspective.”
Latinx grassroots organization Mijente, which has worked to push tech companies not to work with ICE, says in a blog post that Thomson Reuters “is not [just] a passive data broker that sells personal data to ICE,” but also helps the Department of Homeland Security division target people “with both automated analysis and in-house human analysts.”
Jacinta Gonzalez of Mijente said in an interview with The Verge that the role of data brokers like CLEAR in the surveillance of immigrants has been unsettling.
“While Thomson Reuters has built a brand as a trusted news source, few people realize that the news operation is largely financed by the company’s role as a data broker for agencies like ICE,” Gonzalez said. She added that there are “enormous risks” associated with working with ICE, not the least of which are human rights concerns around the agency’s detention of immigrants and the separation of families trying to enter the US at its border with Mexico.
The Canadian groups want Thomson Reuters to produce a human rights risk report and address “how Thomson Reuters assesses its role in contributing to and being directly linked to human rights impacts by end users,” and how the company “mitigates its role in contributing to adverse human rights impacts from end users.”
Thomson Reuters spokesperson Dave Moran said the company takes its role as a corporate citizen extremely seriously. “Thomson Reuters provides products and services to many parts of the U.S. government in support of the rule of law,” Moran said in an email to The Verge. “We [are] proud of the work we do with law enforcement agencies and public safety organizations and our contribution to making our communities safer.”
In its public response to the shareholder proposal, the company’s board of directors recommends shareholders reject it.
“The Board believes that producing a human rights risk report in the form contemplated by the proposal is not in the best interests of Thomson Reuters or its shareholders,” the response states. “The Board believes that our company’s current policies and practices appropriately and adequately reflect Thomson Reuters’ commitment to respecting human rights.”
Thomson Reuters is the latest big company to face backlash for working with ICE. In 2018, Microsoft employees wrote an open letter to management asking it to cancel any ICE-related contracts. Amazon was criticized for reportedly selling its Rekognition facial recognition software to ICE, and an ICE contract with Microsoft-owned Github sparked protests among developers.
According to Thomson Reuters, CLEAR is only available to “authorized professional and government subscribers that have a certified permissible use” under US state and federal laws, all customers are vetted and trained before they get access to Thomson Reuters products, and have to “certify their specific legally permissible uses prior to each time they seek access to any data.”
The company signed a contract with ICE in 2015 which is in “support of its work on active criminal investigations and priority cases involving threats to national security and/or public safety.” Moran declined to provide details about Thomson Reuters’ contracts with ICE.
Thomson Reuters’ annual shareholders meeting, being conducted virtually this year, is scheduled for June 3rd.