Sanctuary Journalism: ICE’s Data Broker Thomson Reuters

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Originally published at Huffington Post

by Tracy Rosenberg

U.S. media outlets have done a fairly good job outlining the injustices and cruelties of the broken immigration system and the rogue federal agency that enforces it: ICE. Abuses ranging from the blatantly illegal to the simply inhumane have been highlighted including the detention and attempted deportation of US citizens, removing brain tumor patients from the hospitalpaying Motel 6 hotel desk clerks to turn in hotel guestsarresting parents while their infant children are undergoing emergency surgerychasing domestic violence victims into court houses and trying to destroy records of in-custody deaths and rapes at detention centers.

Recently pardoned Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio summarized it back in 2008 before the Trump Administration shifted the deportation factory into overdrive: “Cameraman A.J. Alexander captured the lawman during an appearance in 2008 where he calls Tent City a “concentration camp.” You know, like the ones the Germans used back in the 1930s and ‘40s. Responding to some crackpot from the audience who wonders when Arpaio will start using concentration camps, Arpaio gives the following response. “I already have a concentration camp.”

But as generations of cub reporters have been told, it can be hard to tell a story when you become a part of it. Thomson Reuters is a Canadian multinational corporation and one of the world’s largest information companies with annual revenues of $11 billion. Its interests range from Checkpoint and OneSource accounting software, to Westlaw and Sweet Maxwell legal reference services, Eikon and Lipper financial management resources and Proview E-Book Readers.

Reuters is also one of the two largest news wire copy services in journalism, along with the Associated Press. Wire services provide daily up-to-the-minute news coverage for a variety of media outlets including newspapers, television and radio stations and on-line news aggregators. Outlets use the wire in different ways, including distributing the received content or re-packaging the copy, video and audio into their own news products. With the prominent decline in overseas bureaus, the wire services have played an increasingly important role in international news coverage, shaping how Americans view the world and the other countries in it.

Thomson Reuters is also the data broker for ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau arm of the United States Department of Homeland Security. Since September 1, 2016, Thomson Reuters Special Services has been providing “mission critical” access to their databases for ICE Enforcement and Removal Services.

On the website of the Reuters news agency, the corporation states: “Reuters provides society with the news it needs to be free, prosperous and informed. We strive to preserve independence, integrity and freedom from bias in the gathering and dissemination of information and news.” On the same website are “Trust Principles” dating from the evocative year of 1941.

The Trust Principles are:

  1. That Thomson Reuters shall at no time pass into the hands of any one interest, group or faction
  2. That the integrity, independence and freedom from bias of Thomson Reuters shall at all times be fully preserved
  3. That Thomson Reuters shall supply unbiased and reliable news services to newspapers, news agencies, broadcasters and other media subscribers and to businesses governments, institutions, individuals and others with whom Thomson Reuters has or may have contracts
  4. That Thomson Reuters shall pay due regard to the many interests which it serves in addition to those of the media
  5. 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.

Thomson Reuter’s collaboration with the ICE deportation factory is nothing unprecedented. Since 2001, American corporation IBM’s role in providing information services to enable the Holocaust has been known. Over a twelve year period, IBM provided punch cards and alphabetizing machines to the German Nazi regime to enable the systematic tracking, profiling, imprisonment and eventual genocide of targeted populations in Europe including Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals.

Reuter’s collaboration with ICE makes it difficult for the agency’s 3,100 journalists (2500 reporters and 600 photojournalists worldwide) to tell the stories of America’s targeted immigrant communities, including undocumented people, Dreamers, green card holders and even naturalized citizens. Data provided to Reuters staff may not be secure from ICE. Much like broken promises to the Dreamers, who were told to voluntarily submit their personal information to the Department of Homeland Security to participate in the DACA program, while assured such information would never be used to target the undocumented members of their families, including parents and siblings. After 800,000 young people signed up, the government broke that promise, with Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke saying on September 27 that she could not guarantee that the government would keep its promise. Can Reuters reporters make a promise that information provided to them will not be handed over to ICE and if so, can they keep it? Do immigrant communities have any reason to believe such assurances will be honored, given the due regard that must be given to the company’s other interests, which include mission critical information services for ICE Enforcement and Removal Services?

Media outlets do not receive Reuters wire services for free. They subscribe, paying annual fees of at least $15-$20K. These funds, in a practical sense, are being used to strengthen and improve the tracking systems at ICE, specifically the Targeting Operations Division (TOD). The use of financial resources derived from advertisers in the for-profit sector, and from consumers and foundations in the non-profit sector, makes those donors and customers complicit in building out the tracking and profiling systems of ICE, without their consent.

Journalism outlets have, for years, bragged of the impenetrable wall between editorial and marketing, claiming that neither advertisers nor donors, regardless of the size of their financial contributions, have any impact on content. Such claims have sometimes been met with skepticism, as with Amazon’s ownership of newspaper of record the Washington Post, while maintaining a large cloud storage contract with the Central Intelligence Agency. In the non-profit sector, the ad hominem “National Petroleum Radio” has haunted National Public Radio after accepting underwriting agreements with large oil and natural gas companies. While incidents of outright censorship are not unknown, the subtle ramifications of cross-interests are found in self-censorship, where internal pressures and financial concerns can collide to encourage not pursuing stories that promise to embarrass or challenge sources of significant financial support to an outlet or its parent company. When a company as large and influential as Reuters, whose scope is not one particular media outlet but hundreds of media outlets across the country and across the globe, connects its financial interests to the US government and to a particular branch of the US government known to engage in unconstitutional acts that violate human rights, the ability and willingness of affiliated reporters to chase a story to wherever it leads regardless of consequences can be impacted. Because of the outsized influence of wire services, these moments of self-censorship can impact the entire fourth estate and the constitutional basis of American government, which relies on the press to hold government accountable to the people.

Finally, there is the currently controversial notion of sanctuary. The sanctuary movement began in the churches. In the 1980’s, clergy from a variety of denominations including Catholics, Presbyterians and Quakers, began interpreting Judeo-Christian teachings to mean they were obligated to provide safety and protection to those fleeing violence and persecution. On March 24, 1982, Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ declared itself the first public sanctuary. By 1985, 500 other churches had done with the same, with public statements of support for sanctuary institutions put out by the Presbyterian Church in 1983, and the American Lutheran Church, Rabbinical Assembly, and the American Baptist Church in 1984. In 1971, Berkeley, CA became the first sanctuary city in the United States. There are now 163 sanctuary cities and counties across the United Statesincluding San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Boston, New Orleans and Washington DC. A bill that partially creates a “sanctuary state” in California is on the desk of the governor for signature. Trump’s Department of Justice, as headed by Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, has been in a war with the nation’s sanctuary cities, threatening to cut off funding and targeting immigration raids towards sanctuary jurisdictions.

Sanctuary city policy has been driven by the inhabitants of a city and county pressing for the legislation due to a desire to direct local law enforcement away from immigration enforcement and to protect residents fleeing poverty and violence in other countries. Good corporate citizenship from a media outlet headquartered in or serving a sanctuary city or county means respecting local laws and values. Sending money solicited from the local community to ICE’s data broker violates the norms of sanctuary jurisdictions.

Many “improve-journalism” projects take the form of events like this one held in Charlotte by News Voice North Carolina following the Charlottesville white supremacist riot. The day’s theme was “The News Charlotte Needs: A Public Forum on the Role of Journalism in Tackling Inequity”. Among the takeaways of the participants was this observation:

“Journalism telling the story of inequity requires deep understanding and reckoning with the past.”

It is not just the past that we have to reckon with. There is also reckoning with the present. If story-tellers work for media outlets that are funding and disseminating news from a corporation building the deportation machine of today, and the concentration camps of tomorrow, divesting from inequity is a move that has to be made. Boycott Reuters until they stop working as an ICE data broker. An ethical and independent media requires nothing less.

 

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