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Misuse of federal databases

 June 6, 2023 at 5:00 AM PDT

Good Morning, I’m Erik Anderson, in for Debbie Cruz….it’s Tuesday, June sixth.

Records show ICE agents are abusing their access to federal databases. More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….


M-T-S bus routes in the South Bay and East County will continue to be impacted, after bus drivers rejected an offer from M-T-S contractor Transdev over the weekend.

Transdev offered a conditional bonus of 1-thousand-dollars if the drivers accepted the proposal on or before Sunday, but union members voted against it.

A Teamsters union representative told our media partner 10 News, that Transdev's offer didn't address the union's main concerns.

Previously the union has said those main concerns are sanitary bathrooms, safe places to take breaks and a fair contract.

The strike has been going on for about a month now.


Rail service between San Diego and Orange counties has been suspended for the second time this year.

The tracks used by Metrolink and Amtrak trains were closed between San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano yesterday as crewmembers inspected a possible landslide.

It’s the same area that was closed at the end of April.

There's no estimate for when service will resume.


More gloomy weather is in store for us today.

The National Weather Service says there’s a slight chance of rain this morning.

The sky will be cloudy most of the day, and temps will be in the low 60s.

Forecasters say we can expect more patchy drizzle tomorrow morning too.


Coming up, how ICE agents are abusing their access to federal databases.

“People might say well if you’re not doing anything wrong you don’t have anything to worry about. But the fact that I’m not doing anything wrong should be enough for the government to not surveil us and keep us on a watchlist.”

More on that story, after the break.


Records show that hundreds of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and contractors abused confidential databases.

Border reporter Gustavo Solis says those agents have access to lots of personal data.

In San Diego, one ICE agent used federal databases to spy on his ex-wife’s boyfriend. Another used a database to give a detainee’s private information to someone who wasn’t authorized to have it.  Those are just a few examples of misconduct. In San Diego and Imperial Counties, 26 ICE agents and contractors were investigated for this type of behavior between 2016 and 2019, records show. Most of those employees improperly used computers and databases. In fact, the most common violation was using federal law enforcement databases for self-queries – or just looking yourself up. “They might seem like low-level offenses. David Maass is policy director at the Electronic Frontier Foundations. He says looking yourself up on a database may not seem like a big deal. But what they do is tell a broader picture of the culture of DHS and ICE and CBP.” And that broader picture could include more serious violations…That creates public mistrust. “People feel like they’re not being watched, and they can look up whatever they want in the database. And maybe that starts with them looking up themselves and maybe that progresses to maybe looking up their ex-wives.” Part of what makes this so concerning to Maass is the amount of personal data these databases have about us. He says they can track our movements with license plate reader data. They have information about where we work and who we spend time with. “They may have a massive amount of information. They keep ingesting more and more. It’s very difficult to know the full breadth of information they have.” In fact, In 2018 some of those databases were used to track lawyers and humanitarian workers helping migrants in Tijuana. That included Nicole Ramos. She’s the director of Al Otro Lado’s border rights project, which gives legal advice to asylum seekers trapped in Mexico. Ramos was one of the people under surveillance. Customs and Border Protection even had a dossier on her. “That included information such as my mother’s name, where she lives. My travel including international travel that did not originate in the U.S. My car, license, model.” This type of surveillance has real-world consequences. Ramos first found out something was off when CBP agents sent her to a secondary inspection. “That was when a supervisor confiscated my global entry card.” Global Entry cards are vital to people who live on the border. They allow people to cross through special car and pedestrian lanes that are much faster than the general lanes. Having one of those cards is the difference between crossing the border in 30 minutes or three hours. Records show that some ICE agents faced little discipline after their violations were sustained. For example, the agent who used a database to spy on his ex-wife’s new boyfriend. Nothing happened in his case. Same thing with another agent who did a license plate search without authorization. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not respond to a request for comment. “There is zero transparency and zero accountability.” Ramos says she is still under surveillance. She avoids crossing the border unless she absolutely has to. “People might say well if you’re not doing anything wrong you don’t have anything to worry about. But the fact that I’m not doing anything wrong should be enough for the government to not surveil us and keep us on a watchlist.” Gustavo Solis, KPBS News.


S-D-P-D has released a trove of information about the surveillance technologies it uses to investigate crimes and monitor large gatherings.

Investigative reporter Scott Rodd reports.

Drones. Sophisticated camera systems. Equipment to bust passwords and encryption on cell phones. These are just a few of the 70-plus surveillance technologies SDPD recently disclosed on its website. “This disclosure is a really big win.” Brian Hofer is executive director of Secure Justice…a California-based nonprofit that advocates against government overreach. “You can’t regulate what you don’t know about … and now the public can have a meaningful say into what technologies get used or don’t get used.” The SDPD’s use of surveillance technology has been a source of controversy in recent years. Last year, San Diego’s City Council passed an ordinance requiring each city department to disclose the technologies they use and  hold community meetings to solicit feedback. An SDPD spokesperson told KPBS the ordinance will ensure transparency. The City Council has the ultimate say on which technologies can be used. SOC.


Coming up.... The city of San Diego begins repairing roads that were damaged nearly two decades ago from a fire. We’ll have that story and more, just after the break.


The Keeling Curve had more bad news this week for carbon emissions building up in the planet's atmosphere.

Sci-tech reporter Thomas Fudge says the monitoring station in Hawaii hit another record high for carbon dioxide.

The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii measures carbon dioxide molecules in dry air. This week NOAA and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography reported the fourth highest year-to-year increase in carbon dioxide… in the history of the Keeling Curve. C-O-2 levels are now at 424 parts per million. That’s up three parts per million from May of last year. Scripps Oceanography has managed and monitored the Mauna Loa readings since the late 50s, and the four biggest jumps in the Keeling Curve have occurred in the past ten years. One researcher said they hope to see a flattening of the curve sometime soon. But the level of CO2, and the global warming that comes with it, continue to increase. SOQ. 


Now onto news about the sewage that is polluting our beaches … California's junior senator was at the international border yesterday, to discuss efforts to fix the region’s cross border sewage problem.

U-S Senator Alex Padilla says federal officials are getting closer to building infrastructure that will slow the flow of sewage-tainted water into the U-S.

More than 34-billion gallons of dirty water has crossed the border since January.

Padilla says fixing the issue is a priority, and he wants to protect and find the resources to make it happen.

“Now is the time to really lean in and protect this project from the chopping block, but in fact, not just protect funding but advocate for the additional funding that is long overdue.”   

The environmental protection agency’s comprehensive solution will cost more than 630-million-dollars.

Federal officials have about half that amount.

Mexican officials have pledged another 140-million-dollars for work south of the border.

Work on a border sewage treatment plant upgrade in the country could start next year.


In other water related news, a local government body delayed the decision yesterday on whether two north county water districts can leave the San Diego County Water Authority … to buy cheaper water elsewhere.

North county reporter Alexander Nguyen has the story.

Fallbrook public utility district and rainbow municipal water district want a divorce from the san diego county water authority. because … they say … the water rate is too high. they want to move to the eastern municipal water district in riverside because it’s cheaper. detaching from the 24-member water authority would save fallbrook and rainbow customers 7-million dollars a year. the water authority opposes detachment. for the past 30 years … it has invested in infrastructure to make san diego more drought resistant … to the tune of 19 billion dollars. nick serrano is the vice chair of the water authority. “we don't believe that it's fair to be letting the rest of the region foot the bill for all of these investments that we've been able to make over these last number of years and unfairly cause people's water rates to increase.” the decision on whether fallbrook and rainbow can leave rests on the san diego local agency formation commission or lafco. commissioners are concerned about passing costs to the remaining customers … and have delayed the vote until august to study the issue further. if approved … voters in fallbrook and rainbow will also need to approve it. an/kpbs.


The Witch Creek fire damaged more than 16-hundred structures when it swept through the county in 2007.

But that wasn't the only damage it left behind.

Reporter Kitty Alvarado has the story.

Three two one, fire ‘em up, Cheers Todd Gloria San Diego Mayor San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria gave the countdown to signal work crews to start their engines  And this noisy construction was met with cheers from people who live in Rancho Bernardo’s  Westwood neighborhood … the roads are crumbling and have been cracked for so long there’s grass and flowers in the middle of the street. Diane Ron .. is among the more than 11 hundred people who lost their homes in the fire Yeah It’s still hard to think about  Their home was rebuilt … but the trauma is still there All the ash, the chimney it was all that’s left She can’t help but get upset by today’s press conference where city leaders spoke about the   work it took to get 5 million dollars funding for repairs … it’s the city who was lagging so far behind Two people were killed in the fire …. Dozens of firefighters were hurt She finds comfort in what wasn’t lost … But My daughter got out, the dog got out … KA, KPBS News.


That’s it for the podcast today. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Erik Anderson. Thanks for listening and have a great Tuesday.

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Records show that hundreds of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and contractors abused confidential databases. In other news, the San Diego Police Department has released a trove of information about the surveillance technologies it uses to investigate crimes and monitor large gatherings. Plus, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla was at the international border Monday, to discuss efforts to fix the region’s cross border sewage problem.