LexisNexis’s Role in ICE Surveillance and Librarian Ethics

by Sarah Lamdan and Yasmin Sokkar Harker

A recent Intercept article listed the data corporations vying to build ICE’s Extreme Vetting surveillance system. The list of companies signing on to this project includes LexisNexis, a go-to product for legal and business research, news, and public-records searching. LexisNexis is a ubiquitous library resource. It can be found on public use computers and webpages in public, academic, and private libraries across the nation. For librarians in the legal field, especially, LexisNexis is an often unavoidable product, as it is one of two major research systems for the law.

Civil liberties activists and artificial intelligence (AI) experts quickly responded to the news by writing a letter, en masse, to IBM’s CEO, condemning the company’s potential participation in the ICE program. The AI experts decried the program as being “tailor-made for discrimination”, as it is meant to determine and evaluate an applicant’s probability of becoming a positively contributing member of society, as well as their ability to contribute to national interests and predict whether an applicant intends to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States. These types of programs have not been proven to be effective, and in other cases, have falsely labelled individuals as criminals or security risks. This program is not totally dissimilar to IBM’s role in the Holocaust as the statisticians and data-gatherers behind massive deportation and roundup lists. Librarians should be active participants in the conversation about the ICE project to build a system for surveillance and deportation.

Librarians are advocates and activists for privacy rights and the protection of personally identifiable information in surveillance, standing up against recent-anti-muslim Executive Orders and making it clear that libraries and information are for everyone. Librarians know that privacy and the ability to do research without fear of surveillance are the cornerstones of intellectual freedom. We have historically been active in the fight for civil liberties, even going to jail to protect our patrons from intrusive government surveillance.

Librarians are also invested in the ethical use of information. The ACRL Framework for Information Literacy emphasizes the role of “using information, data, and scholarship ethically” and the AALL Legal Research Competencies and Standards states that a successful legal researcher “distinguishes between ethical and unethical uses of information”. The Boulder Statement on Legal Research Education specifies that legal research instruction should include “an ongoing examination of professional standards, including the identification of ethical responsibilities.” Given this focus on ethics, librarians should explore and publicize the ethical implications of a system that would use personal data in a way that technology experts believe will falsely identify people as posing a criminal risk and expose those individuals to serious repercussions.

Critical information literacy, or understanding the source of information and the roles information providers have in society at large, is also a cornerstone of the library profession. As librarians, we must investigate the source of LexisNexis data. While many librarians are pleased by LexisNexis push-of-a-button dossiers on potential clients and library users are tickled that they can use LexisNexis products to track down ex-beaus and high school classmates, we cannot ignore the rotten roots from which this personal data springs. As of 2006, LexisNexis had the world’s largest electronic database for public-records related information. Along with Accurint, a huge public records database, LexisNexis purchased Seisint, a post-9/11 creation whose MATRIX system combines commercial and government records to enable the quick creation of “suspects” or surveillance targets. Seisint, and its MATRIX system, were condemned by civil liberties activists as a tool to propel the nation towards a “surveillance society.” It is incumbent upon librarians to understand and build awareness about the products we provide to the public. Especially if our patrons are likely to be harmed by ICE surveillance, we cannot, in good conscience, counsel them to use products under the LexisNexis umbrella to conduct research in our libraries.

As library organizations discuss ways library professionals can advocate for intellectual freedom, democracy, and equality, we should begin by grappling with how to react when our major database providers engage in massive surveillance projects with the government. It is an opportunity for us, as professionals to put our ethical standards and critical information literacy practices to practical use. As the gatekeepers for the databases and platforms that we use for research, librarians have an obligation to honor privacy and civil liberties in their libraries, and to stand up to research product companies helping ICE to build supersystems for “extremely vetting” citizens and noncitizens alike.

Editor’s Note: The above post was originally published on RIPS Law Librarian Blog, a publication of the Research, Instruction, and Patron Services Special Interest Section (RIPS-SIS) of the American Association of Law Libraries, on December 5, 2017. It was removed from the blog on the “advice of AALL General Counsel” as stated here. The authors asked to publish their post on LLB and I am happy to provide a means for this very important contribution to see the light of day. — Joe

 

Weekend Reading: Lewandowski & Bossie’s Let Trump be Trump campaign memoir

From the blurb of Corey R. Lewandowski and David N. Bossie’s Let Trump Be Trump: The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency (Center Street Dec. 5, 2017):

Corey R. Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager who contributed to Trump’s historic bid for the White House, teams up with David N. Bossie, the consummate political pro who helped steer the last critical months of the Trump Campaign, to offer the first insiders’ account of the most historic campaign in modern political history. Starting from the months leading up to Trump’s announcement all the way through staff shakeups within the White House, LET TRUMP BE TRUMP offers eyewitness accounts of the real stories behind some of the most sensational headlines.

At turns surprising, raw with emotion, and hilarious, LET TRUMP BE TRUMP is a book destined to be beloved by Trump supporters and cited by even Trump critics as the first and most definitive insider account of the 2016 campaign.

— Joe

How effective are resolutions of inquiry as a parliamentary oversight tool in the House?

From the CRS report, Resolutions of Inquiry: An Analysis of Their Use in the House, 1947-2017 (Nov. 9, 2017 R40879):

A resolution of inquiry is a simple resolution making a direct request or demand of the President or the head of an executive department to furnish the House with specific factual information in the Administration’s possession. Under the rules and precedents of the House of Representatives, such resolutions, if properly drafted, are given a privileged parliamentary status. This means that, under certain circumstances, a resolution of inquiry can be brought to the House floor for consideration even if the committee to which it was referred has not reported it and the majority party leadership has not scheduled it for action.

Although Representatives of both political parties have utilized resolutions of inquiry, in recent Congresses, such resolutions have overwhelmingly become a tool of the minority party in the House. This development has led some to question whether resolutions of inquiry are being used primarily for partisan gain or are unduly increasing the workload of certain House committees. Others have attributed the increase to a frustration among minority party Members over their inability to readily obtain information from the executive branch.

Available data suggest that 28% of the time, a resolution of inquiry has resulted in the production of information to the House. In half of the cases examined here, however, it is simply unknown, unclear, or in dispute whether the resolution of inquiry produced any of the requested information, a fact which might suggest the need for additional investigation of the efficacy of this parliamentary oversight tool by policymakers.

— Joe

“Training data:” Artificial intelligence’s fair use crisis

From the abstract of Artificial Intelligence’s Fair Use Crisis by Benjamin L. W. Sobel:

As automation supplants more forms of labor, creative expression still seems like a distinctly human enterprise. This may someday change: by ingesting works of authorship as “training data,” computer programs can teach themselves to write natural prose, compose music, and generate movies. Machine learning is an artificial intelligence (AI) technology with immense potential and a commensurate appetite for copyrighted works. In the United States, the copyright law mechanism most likely to facilitate machine learning’s uses of protected data is the fair use doctrine. However, current fair use doctrine threatens either to derail the progress of machine learning or to disenfranchise the human creators whose work makes it possible.

This Article addresses the problem in three parts: using popular machine learning datasets and research as case studies, Part I describes how programs “learn” from corpora of copyrighted works and catalogs the legal risks of this practice. It concludes that fair use may not protect expressive machine learning applications, including the burgeoning field of natural language generation. Part II explains that applying today’s fair use doctrine to expressive machine learning will yield one of two undesirable outcomes: if US courts reject the fair use defense for machine learning, valuable innovation may move to another jurisdiction or halt entirely; alternatively, if courts find the technology to be fair use, sophisticated software may divert rightful earnings from the authors of input data. This dilemma shows that fair use may no longer serve its historical purpose. Traditionally, fair use is understood to benefit the public by fostering expressive activity. Today, the doctrine increasingly serves the economic interests of powerful firms at the expense of disempowered individual rightsholders. Finally, in Part III, this Article contemplates changes in doctrine and policy that could address these problems. It concludes that the United States’ interest in avoiding both prongs of AI’s fair use dilemma offers a novel justification for redistributive measures that could promote social equity alongside technological progress.

— Joe

Sexual harassment in the halls of Congress

Legal doctrines condemning the extortion of sexual favors as a condition of employment or job advancement and other sexually offensive workplace behaviors resulting in a “hostile environment” have evolved from judicial decisions under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other federal equal employment opportunity laws. The earlier judicial focus on economic detriment or quid pro quo harassment — that is, making submission to sexual demands a condition of job benefits — has largely given way to Title VII claims alleging harassment that creates an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.”

One such hostile work environment for women is the halls of Congress. For example, in 2006, Republican Rep. Mark Foley of Florida resigned after being accused of sexually harassing teenagers who served as pages. In 2010, Democratic Rep. Eric Massa of New York resigned after aides accused him of making unwanted sexual overtures. In 2015, GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas settled a lawsuit brought by a former aide who’d accused him of sexual harassment. Affairs with aides, meanwhile, led to the resignations of two other Republicans, Rep. Mark Souder of Indiana, in 2010, and Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, in 2011. In a 2016 survey by Congressional Quarterly, four out of 10 women reported that they saw sexual harassment as a problem in Congress while one in six had personally been victimized.

In 1995, Congress enacted The Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) aimed at ensuring its staffers enjoy the same workplace rights as those in the private sector. Sexual misconduct claims of violation of the CAA must go through a mandatory, multi-step dispute resolution process supervised by the Office of Compliance. All employees must follow established dispute resolution procedures in order to process their claims under the CAA.

The process starts with a 30-day cooling-off period where the parties continue going to work while being counseled about workplace rights. Then there would be a 15-day waiting period during which to decide whether to bring this to mediation. If the accuser chose mediation, they would be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Mediation would last for 30 more days. When that period ended, there would be 30 more days for a “cooling-off” period before a worker could file a formal complaint. For details, see Dispute Resolution Process – Filing a Claim on the Office of Compliance website.

Additional resources include a CAA FAQ, CAA Handbook and Office of Compliance rules and procedures. Here is the list of annual settlements of all CAA claims, not just sexual harassment ones, by year with total annual settlement amounts for all workplace disputes. — Joe

Congressional Research Service on money laundering

From the introduction to the CRS report, Anti-Money Laundering: An Overview for Congress (Mar. 1, 2017 R44776):

Anti-money laundering (AML) refers to efforts to prevent criminal exploitation of financial systems to conceal the location, ownership, source, nature, or control of illicit proceeds. Despite the existence of long-standing domestic regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, as well as international commitments and guidance on best practices, policymakers remain challenged to identify and address policy gaps and new laundering methods that criminals exploit. According to United Nations estimates recognized by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, criminals in the United States generate some $300 billion in illicit proceeds that might involve money laundering. Rough International Monetary Fund estimates also indicate that the global volume of money laundering could amount to as much as 2.7% of the world’s gross domestic product, or $1.6 trillion annually.

For much more, see Money Laundering: An Overview of 18 U.S.C. § 1956 and Related Federal Criminal Law (Nov. 30, 3017 RL33315). — Joe

Corpus linguistics applied to the Constitution’s emoluments clauses

From the abstract for James C. Phillips and Sara White’s The Meaning of the Three Emoluments Clauses in the U.S. Constitution: A Corpus Linguistic Analysis of American English, 1760-1799:

This paper tackles the meaning of emolument(s) in the founding era using the first (that we can find) full-blown corpus linguistic analysis of constitutional text in American legal scholarship. While at least three others (Randy Barnett, Jenn Mascott, and Joel Hood) have done corpus linguistics-like analysis in constitutional interpretation, none have used all of the tools of a corpus (collocation, clusters/n-grams, frequency data, and concordance lines) and used a sufficiently large and representative corpus of the relevant time period — here the underlying data of the soon-to-be released Corpus of Founding Era American English (COFEA) — to make confident conclusions about probably founding-era meaning.

The article does not discount other methodologies of constitutional exegesis; nor does the article claim to prove the meaning of any of the Constitution’s invocation of the word emolument, only make some meanings more probable than others; nor does the article take sides on whether the President has violated the Constitution. But the article does add another piece to the emolument puzzle, and provides a more rigorous, relevant, transparent, and accurate methodology than scholars have so far employed in investigating the original public meaning of the various emoluments clauses. In sum, this article is narrower than most on the topic, but within that niche it dives deeper than any have so far gone.

We constructed three corpora for our analysis that covered 1760-1799: one of books, pamphlets and broadsides from a mix of ordinary and elite authors (53.4 million words), one correspondence of six major “Founders” (43.9 million words), and one of legal materials (48.6 million words). From each we sampled about 250 instances of the use of the term emolument. We found that the broad, general sense of emolument was the most common compared to the narrow, office/public employment sense in the “ordinary” corpus (54.6% to 34.1%, 11.2% ambiguous), but that the general sense was less common than the narrow sense in the “elite” corpus (29.3% to 64.8%, 5.9% ambiguous) and the “legal” corpus (25.6% and 68.7%, 5.7% ambiguous). When just looking at instances in our sample where the recipient is an office, we found the narrow sense dominated: “ordinary” corpus (84.2%), “elite” corpus (88.0%), “legal” corpus (94.2%). And the narrow sense was even more common when looking in the context of emoluments from government: “ordinary” corpus (86.7%), “elite” corpus (92.6%), and “legal” corpus (97.3%).

This paper concludes that the Congressional and Presidential Emoluments Clauses would have most likely been understood to contain a narrow, office or public-employment sense of emolument. But the Foreign Emoluments Clause is more ambiguous given its modifying language “of any kind whatever.” Further research into that phrase is needed.

Interesting. — Joe

AG Sessions muzzles DOJ from explaining how federal law applies

It has come to my attention that the Department has in the past published guidance documents- or similar instruments of future effect by other names, such as letters to regulated entities- that effectively bind private parties without undergoing the rulemaking process.

The Department will no longer engage in this practice. Effective immediately, Department components may not issue guidance documents that purport to create rights or obligations binding on persons or entiti es outside the Executive Branch (including state, local, and tribal governments). — Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States, Nov. 16, 2017 Memorandum

The DOJ has announced that it will no longer issue guidance on the federal laws it enforces and that it will review existing guidance to identify those that should be rescinded. Lawfare’s Eve Hill writes:

The memorandum is couched in terms of eliminating guidance that circumvents the rulemaking process by imposing new binding obligations on covered entities without notice-and-comment rulemaking. But the instructions of the memorandum go much further – they forbid the Department from using “shall,” “must,” “required,” or “requirement” and require the Department to state that all guidance is non-binding. This effectively muzzles the experts on federal law from explaining how the law applies in specific contexts. It threatens to leave covered entities in the dark when, in good faith, they apply the law to new situations they face on the ground.

— Joe

Flynn’s plea agreement with the special counsel’s office [text]

Here’s the text of Flynn’s plea agreement with the Special Counsel. From The Flynn Plea: A Quick and Dirty Analysis by Susan Hennessey, Matthew Kahn, Vanessa Sauter, Shannon Togawa Mercer and Benjamin Wittes, Lawfare Dec. 1, 2017:

The surprising thing about the plea agreement and the stipulated facts underlying it is how narrow they are. There’s no whiff of the alleged Fethullah Gulen kidnapping talks. Flynn has escaped FARA and influence-peddling charges. And he has been allowed to plead to a single count of lying to the FBI. The factual stipulation is also narrow. It involves lies to the FBI on two broad matters and lies on Flynn’s belated FARA filings on another issue. If a tenth of the allegations against Flynn are true and provable, he has gotten a very good deal from Mueller.

— Joe

First lawsuit opposing President Trump’s monuments proclamations filed [text]

Yesterday, President Trump modified prior proclamations for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument [text] and the Bears Ears National Monument [text] that significantly reduce the size of each monument. Already, one complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief has been filed by environment groups including The Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club. From the filing:

President Trump’s unlawful reversal of Grand Staircase-Escalante’s full protective reach exceeds his authority under the Antiquities Act. The Act authorizes Presidents to create national monuments; it does not authorize Presidents to abolish them either in whole or in part, as President Trump’s action attempts to do.

President Trump’s action even purports to overturn congressional legislation that added lands to the monument.

Accordingly, the President’s decision exceeds his authority under the Antiquities Act, violates the separation of powers between Congress and the President and the “take Care” clause of the U.S. Constitution, and is therefore unlawful.

— Joe

House and Senate Ethics Committees: CRS histories of their evolution and jurisdiction

Two CRS reports explain the history, evolution and jurisdictions of the House and Senate ethics committees:

— Joe

Special Counsel seeks to deny Manafort’s current motion to modify conditions of his release (text)

The Special Counsel’s team has evidence that Manafort failed to tell the government that he was ghost-writing an op-ed piece about his work in the Ukraine as late as Nov. 30th. From the Special Counsel’s court filing:

Even if the ghostwritten op-ed were entirely accurate, fair, and balanced, it would be a violation of this Court’s November 8 Order if it had been published. The editorial clearly was undertaken to influence the public’s opinion of defendant Manafort, or else there would be no reason to seek its publication.

Manaford was working on the op-ed piece with “a longtime Russian colleague” who is “assessed to have ties to Russian intelligence,” according to the special counsel’s court filing.

Trump’s Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions

From The Trump Administration and the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (Nov. 29, 2017 R45032):

Donald J. Trump promised that if he were elected President, he would instruct federal agencies to reduce their regulations significantly. As of late 2017, this deregulation was underway in agencies across the federal government.

The Trump Administration’s first Unified Agenda, which was issued on July 20, 2017, and was referred to by the Administration as the “Update to the 2017 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions,” contains information on many deregulatory actions that the Trump Administration has undertaken so far. For example, the Agenda lists 469 actions that agencies have withdrawn since the previous (Fall 2016) edition of the Unified Agenda and 22 major and/or economically significant actions that were reclassified from “active” under the Barack Obama Administration to “long-term” under the Trump Administration. The 2017 Update lists a total of 58 economically significant “active” actions, as compared to 113 such actions that had been published in the Fall 2016 edition.

This report provides an overview of the Unified Agenda, discusses the additional significance of the Unified Agenda in the Trump Administration, provides summary information about content of the 2017 Update, and discusses what additional information can be expected in the subsequent edition of the Agenda.

You can view the current Unifed Agenda here. — Joe

Shutdown of the Federal Government: CRS Report

In the past, there have occasionally been funding gaps that led to government shutdowns, the longest of which lasted 21 full days, from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996. The most recent shutdown began October 1, 2013, and lasted for a total of 16 full days. Will there be another government shutdown later this month? Perhaps with an abundance of caution, the Congressional Research Service has updated Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects (RL 34680 Nov. 30, 2017). From the report:

Government shutdowns have necessitated furloughs of several hundred thousand federal employees, required cessation or reduction of many government activities, and affected numerous sectors of the economy. This report discusses

  • causes of shutdowns, including the legal framework under which they may occur;
  • processes related to how agencies may plan for the contingency of a shutdown;
  • effects of shutdowns, focusing especially on federal personnel and government operations; and
  • issues related to shutdowns that may be of interest to Congress.

This CRS report is intended to address questions that arise frequently related to the topic of government shutdowns. However, the report does not closely track developments related to the appropriations process for a given fiscal year.

H/T to beSpacific — Joe

Trends in AALL membership, 2007-2017: Law Firm/Corporate professional membership continues to decline

Since 2007, the biennial Salary Survey has reported on AALL membership by market sectors: Law Firm/Corporate, Government and Law School. The table, above, details non-AALL membership as a percent of the professional workforce as reported in the last six biennial salary surveys. The percent of non-AALL members in the law firm/corporate legal sector workforce increased 19% in 2017 compared to 2015 and has increased 56% since 2007. Note that the percent of the professional workforce in the law firm/corporate law sector who are not AALL members has steadily increased during the past ten years. No similar increase is manifest in the government and academic sectors.

Why?

Time to mount an AALL membership outreach campaign targeting non-traditional legal information professionals in law firms and corporate legal departments? — Joe

Special Counsel indicts Michael Flynn for lying (text)

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn “willfully and knowingly” made false statements, according to a lawsuit by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. According to the indictment, Flynn falsely stated to the FBI that he didn’t ask the Russian ambassador to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions the U.S. had imposed against the country, and that he didn’t recall the ambassador subsequently telling him Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions. Flynn also was charged with falsely stating he didn’t ask the Russian ambassador to delay the vote on or defeat a pending United Nations Security Council resolution and that the ambassador subsequently never described Russia’s response. Business Insider has the indictment. — Joe

Joint Committee on Taxation scores Tax Cut and Jobs Act

The growth generated by the tax proposal is projected to reduce the estimated $1.4 billion revenue loss from the proposal by about $458 billion over the 2018-2027 budget period resulting in a net deficit of $1 billion according to Macroeconomic Analysis Of The “Tax Cut And Jobs Act” as ordered reported by the Senate Committee on Finance on November 16, 2017. — Joe

Weekend reading: You Can’t Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump (A So-Called Parody)

“Until Donald Trump publishes the ultimate account of his entire four or eight or one-and-a-half years in the White House, the definitive chronicle will be You Can’t Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year As President (A So-Called Parody),” according to the blurb for Alec Baldwin and Kurt Andersen’s book. — Joe

Senate Rules Restricting the Content of Conference Reports

From Senate Rules Restricting the Content of Conference Reports (Nov. 27, 2017 RS22733):

Two Senate rules affect the authority of conferees to include in their report matter that was not passed by the House or Senate before the conference committee was appointed. Colloquially, such provisions are sometimes said to have been “airdropped” into the conference report. First, Rule XXVIII precludes conference agreements from including policy provisions that were not sufficiently related to either the House or the Senate version of the legislation sent to conference. Such provisions are considered to be “out of scope” under long-standing Senate rules and precedents. Second, Paragraph 8 of Rule XLIV establishes a point of order that can be raised against “new directed spending provisions,” or provisions in a conference report that provide specific items of appropriations or direct spending that were not committed to the conference committee in either the House or Senate versions of the legislation. Both of these restrictions can be enforced on the Senate floor if any Senator chooses to raise a point of order against one or more provisions in a conference report.

The process for disposing of either a Rule XXVIII or a Rule XLIV point of order allows the Senate to strike “out of scope matter” or “new directed spending provisions” from the conference report but agree to the rest of the terms of the compromise. It is not in order, however, for either chamber to alter the text of a conference report, and therefore the process converts the text of the conference compromise minus the “new matter” or “new directed spending provisions” into an amendment.

— Joe

GPO and the GOP’s tax plan: What if tax bill’s automatic spending cuts are triggered?

On Free Government Information, James Jacobs observes that the automatic spending cuts in the GOP’s tax plan could decimate the GPO because its revolving fund for FY18 could be cut $2 millions in 2018 with additional cuts for 10 years. “$2 million doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but GPO only requested $8,540,000 for the revolving fund for FY18. That’s a 25% cut! The revolving fund pays for improvements to GPO’s FDsys (and its successor system, govinfo) as well as other essential IT projects and things like enhancing the cybersecurity of GPO’s IT systems and other necessary physical infrastructure projects.” “With passage of this ‘tax cut’ bill, Jacobs wrote “GPO’s demise is no longer hypothetical. What will FDLP libraries do in that case? Does GPO have a formal succession plan or escrow arrangements (key components of a Trusted Digital Repository audit!)? And what will FDLP libraries do to maintain critical access to and preservation of government information going forward?” — Joe