Both code repository GitHub and blogging platform Medium have taken down a project to automatically catalogue the identities of staff for Immigration and Customs Enforcement – the US government agency which has attracted widespread revulsion for its role enforcing the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of throwing immigrant children into detention centres – citing rules against doxxing. Additionally, Twitter appears to be suspending accounts that have been posting information from the project’s data set.
A uniformed Department of Homeland Security officer, identified by Getty as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, monitors a protest in San Francisco on 19 June 2018. Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)
Developer Sam Lavigne wrote on Medium that he had written a program that “downloaded and made available the profiles of (almost) everyone on LinkedIn who works for ICE, 1595 people in total”. Lavigne wrote he was not specifically sure how this information could be acted on but hoped “researchers, journalists and activists will find it useful”:
I find it helpful to remember that as much as internet companies use data to spy on and exploit their users, we can at times reverse the story, and leverage those very same online platforms as a means to investigate or even undermine entrenched power structures. It’s a strange side effect of our reliance on private companies and semi-public platforms to mediate nearly all aspects of our lives. We don’t necessarily need to wait for the next Snowden-style revelation to scrutinize the powerful – so much is already hiding in plain sight.
According to The Verge, both the Github repository where Lavigne published the data and his Medium post describing the project have been taken offline:
Lavigne told The Verge that Medium “suspended the post because they felt it was doxing”, while a Github spokesperson told the site that the project violated community guidelines:
“We removed the project because it violates our community guidelines,” a GitHub spokesperson told The Verge. “In general, we have policies against use of GitHub for doxxing and harassment, and violating a third party’s privacy.”
According to BuzzFeed, Twitter also suspended Jewish educator and coder Russel Neiss’ bot account @IceHRGov, which was automatically tweeting information from the database. However, the data set continues to circulate in the form of a publicly accessible Google spreadsheet.
Whether or not one agrees this is “doxxing” – a term typically used to expose private individuals to harassment by releasing personal information such as their names, addresses or contact information – probably depends on a lot on ones’ feelings about ICE and its atrocious conduct, as well as the specifics of the data actually compiled.
As Wired noted, doxxing as a political tactic reached a fever pitch as a result of movements such as Gamergate, which used it as a tool to harass anyone they happened to disagree with.
This situation is arguably much different and only involves data accessible to anyone with a LinkedIn account, but as Utah State University ethics and technology professor Jared Colton told Wired, “Evaluating someone’s intent is impossible, and anyone can always make the case they’re doing something for the greater good.”
For what it’s worth, Lavigne told The Verge he agrees whether the database qualifies as doxxing is a “totally valid question to bring up”, but that “I think that the information is already out there, and if people want to embark on individual campaigns of harassment, then they’re going to be doing that no matter what”.
One person directly responsible for the family separation policy who has not been able to shield themselves from personal backlash to their actions, however, is US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Today, the Metro DC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America located Nielsen at Mexican restaurant MXDC, chanting “shame” until she decided to leave the building:
DHS Secretary Nielsen just got driven out of a Mexican restaurant here on 14th Street by activists. DSA, I believe. pic.twitter.com/lTKutryXBO
— Osita Nwanevu (@OsitaNwanevu) June 20, 2018