Immigration advocates sue LexisNexis, claiming company violated Illinois law by selling personal data

Data broker LexisNexis Risk Solutions allegedly violated Illinois law by collecting and combining vast amounts of personal information and selling it to third parties, including federal immigration authorities, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by immigration advocates.

The result is “a serious threat to civil liberties,” activists and two immigration advocacy groups argued. The lawsuit asks a Cook County judge to stop the data broker from selling personal information without consent.

The complaint also alleges that LexisNexis’ Accurint product, which is sold to law enforcement, incorporates information that is not publicly available, including correctional stockpiles, vehicle collision records, and license plate reader databases.

A representative for Georgia-based LexisNexis Risk Solutions did not immediately respond to a request for comment shortly after the lawsuit was filed.

Immigration advocates have drawn attention to a $22 million contract between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and LexisNexis for that product, revealed in the results of a Freedom of Information Act request. They argue that it poses a particular risk to activists and immigrants.

Sejal Zota, legal director of Just Futures Law and an attorney in the lawsuit, said the data broker makes it possible for ICE to “instantly access sensitive personal data, all without warrants, subpoenas, privacy guarantees, or any display of reasonableness.”

“Our plaintiffs view this alleged violation of their privacy as dehumanizing and unacceptable,” he said.

In the case of a woman, the information available through Accurint includes her past and current addresses, phone number, date of birth and an incorrect Social Security number, according to the lawsuit. Detailed reports produced on two other women involved in the case included full Social Security numbers.

“There is a critical difference between collecting bits of personal information through publicly available resources (the Internet, court records, archives, etc.) and collecting information through an encyclopedic dossier that compiles all records, including those that son is not publicly available, in a computerized and easily accessible profile, ”says the complaint.

The lawsuit was filed in Cook County, which includes Chicago. Local officials have investigated whether federal immigration authorities can use information from data brokers to get around the county’s ban on honoring ICE requests to detain people without legal authorization to be in the country.

Antonio Gutierrez, strategic coordinator and co-founder of Organized Communities Against Deportation, said the organization signed on to the lawsuit because they see data brokers as a way for ICE to get around existing limits. Gutierrez said it took years of advocacy to create policies that would prevent Illinois cities, counties and state government from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

“We just asked ourselves ‘How do we fight this?’” he said, noting that some of the information comes from basic consumer interactions, like setting up a utility account or getting a car loan. “The entity that should be held accountable for how they are operating is LexisNexis.”

In California, data broker Thomson Reuters is facing a similar lawsuit accusing the company of violating state law by collecting and selling residents’ personal information to corporations, law enforcement and government agencies. That case was brought in 2020 by two activists backed by various privacy rights groups.

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