Major utilities agree to stop sharing data with ICE

A national group of utility companies has stopped allowing data it collects on millions of Americans to be shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

The National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange has previously given sensitive information from cable, phone and power bills to the credit bureau Equifax, which packaged that and sold it to databases used by government agencies, including ICE.

That chain of private data, including names, addresses and social security numbers, from utilities to the government and law enforcement was outlined in reporting by the Washington Post earlier this year.

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Since then, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Schumer opted for modest rules reform after pushback from moderates MORE (D-Ore.) has pushed the exchange to end the sale of the data.

The Oregon lawmaker revealed that the NCTUE had instructed Equifax in October to stop selling its credit header data in a letter sent to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Wednesday.

Data received before October is still being sold, Wyden noted in the letter.

A spokesperson for the NCTUE confirmed the policy change.

“Recently, NCTUE worked with its members to end the practice of licensing members’ header data to third parties,” they told The Hill in a statement. “This practice is now being followed.” 

Wednesday’s letter asks the CFPB to investigate the sale of similar data by credit agencies.

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“I'm happy to see that after my investigation, utility companies have stopped allowing Americans’ personal data to be sold to shady data brokers and then to the government,” Wyden wrote in a tweet. “But credit agencies are continuing to misuse and abuse Americans' data they receive from banks.”

Immigrants rights groups praised the news of the utility companies cutting off sales to immigration enforcement, but cautioned that other sources of data still pose concern.

“Cutting off this data pipeline from the source is a major development as part of our campaign to put an end to ICE’s use of tech surveillance to harm immigrants,” Jacinta Gonzalez, senior campaign director at Mijente, said in a statement.

“Now we need a guarantee that data brokers will not use utility data in any of the products or services, that they will erase all past data as well as stop collecting utility data in the future,” she added. 

Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the group Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, called for more action to “dismantle the data broker industry.”

“No one should have to choose between the essentials of modern life and keeping their families safe,” he added in a statement.

Wyden and Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 I'm furious about Democrats taking the blame — it's time to fight back Rand Paul cancels DirecTV subscription after it drops OAN MORE (R-Ky.) earlier this year introduced legislation, called The Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act, aimed at closing the loophole that has allowed the government to purchase Americans’s sensitive information from data brokers.

The bill would require agencies to obtain a court warrant for any of those purchases. Despite having bipartisan support from lawmakers in both chambers, it has not had a hearing in relevant Senate or House committees.