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In defense of Sam Lavigne, and why publishing LinkedIn data on ICE employees is in the public interest

2018.06.21

posted by: camille_fassett and jennifer_helsby

Motivated by the Trump administration’s policy of detaining and separating migrant children from their families at the border, artist and developer Sam Lavigne harvested profiles that list Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as an employer on social network LinkedIn.

He made the dataset of all 1595 responsive profiles, which included names, titles, photographs and general locations, available to download on GitHub. The repository also included the Python script that he used to scrape LinkedIn, along with basic instructions on how to replicate his work.

“While I don’t have a precise idea of what should be done with this data set, I leave it here with the hope that researchers, journalists and activists will find it useful,” Lavigne wrote in a Medium post about the profiles he scraped.

But at the URL where the dataset was hosted is now just a page that reads: “This repository has been disabled. Access to this repository has been disabled by GitHub staff.” And in place of Lavigne’s explainer on Medium is simply, “This page is unavailable.”

GitHub and Medium aren’t the only entities that scrubbed Lavigne’s work from their platforms. Twitter also suspended @iceHRgov, an account that tweeted profiles from the dataset.

A spokesperson for GitHub stated that the repository was removed because it violated its community guidelines—specifically, those that prohibit doxxing, harassment, and violating a third party’s privacy.

But doxxing is targeting private individuals for harassment by exposing their private, personal information. ICE is a government agency, and its employees on the ground are in public, acting in their capacity as government officials. As journalist Sarah Jeong, the author of a book about online harassment titled The Internet of Garbage, has written, “The definition of doxing is the publication of a physical residential address, or information protected by law (social security numbers, medical records, and so forth).”

“Unmasking someone by their full name, identifying someone by their first name, identifying their place of work, or screencapping e-mails are not doxing. They are—once again, depending on the circumstances—possibly abusive things to do. But they are not doxing,” Jeong continues. “Do you know what is an abusive thing to do? To expand the definition of doxing in order to harness public outrage without having to actually discuss the circumstances in which you have been exposed.”

Lavigne only collected information about ICE employees that was related to their work - information that they themselves chose to share publicly. Anyone with a LinkedIn profile could view the same information. While doxxing can be frightening, Lavigne did not share information such as their home addresses, telephone numbers, or other details about their private lives or families.

The idea that law enforcement officers should be identifiable is not new or radical. This basic transparency measure is why officers have badge numbers and carry identification cards that include their names. This principle was reiterated by the police chief of Hartford, CT (a sanctuary city), who said: “All law enforcement officials, not acting in an undercover capacity, working in our community should be readily identified by the agencies that they represent.”

ICE agents are no different. When carrying out their public duties, they should be easily identified by the public as both ICE employees and individuals. Failing to identify themselves is cause for public concern.

There are countless instances of very real online harassment and threats—frequently targeted at women, immigrants, queer and trans people, and people of color. In many of these cases, platforms like Twitter have often been far slower to act to remove content that targets vulnerable people than it does to protect ICE officials participating in a regime separating children from families and deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants per year.

Sharing information about government agents related to the execution of their public duties for the purposes of government accountability and transparency should never be considered doxxing or harassment.


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