Nlets is a telecommunications network that is a backbone of today's migrant data criminalization machinery, sharing information between 45,000 law enforcement organizations nationally and internationally, and checking the fingerprints of anyone booked by police against DHS records.
Nlets allows police, ICE and other users of its system to directly access the state-level databases that feed into the NCIC in order to verify the information obtained through NCIC searches.Footnote 1 Nlets allows users to query federal law enforcement and multiple states at once if they have a person’s name and other biographical details.Footnote 2 Depending on varying state rules, Nlets might provide a person’s Social Security Number and home address, and parole, probation, and criminal legal history information that goes beyond what can be found in NCIC and other federal and state information-sharing pipelines. Additionally, Nlets includes and shares driver’s license information, including photosFootnote 3 for facial recognition,Footnote 4 and motor vehicle registration information.
Nlets is a key system used in the automated, computerized fingerprint checking process that cross-checks everyone booked by non-immigration police against DHS datasets. If ICE has to release a person from custody, and that person was ever convicted of a violent or serious crime (defined by ICE as homicide, sexual assault, aggravated assault, or robbery), ICE uses Nlets to send message notifications to state and local law enforcement agencies in the jurisdiction where a person is released or where they intend to reside. The notification informs local law enforcement when and where that person will be released.Footnote 5
Nlets is multiple things, and worth examining as a target: It is a more than fifty-year-old “private not-for-profit partnership” of fifty states, law enforcement agencies and corporate partners.Footnote 6 It has been operational at least since the late 1990s, and is a cloud-based network that includes criminal records and personal data.Footnote 7 According to a 2014 Justice Research and Statics Association article, “Nlets is governed by its representatives. Principle member agencies, (e.g., state police departments, departments of public safety, and bureaus of investigation) each appoint a representative. Collectively, these representatives elect officers and a Board of Directors. Along with their governing responsibilities, representatives serve as the primary Nlets contact for their agencies’ interstate data exchange.”Footnote 8 Yet, law professor Bridget A. Fahey wrote, Nlets "acts like a private entity, not a government institution, though it serves as gatekeeper to a sweeping amount of government data."Footnote 9 For instance, Nlets shares information with its partner private companies, which in turn develop surveillance technologies for law enforcement.
According to its 2020 ICE Office of Acquisition Management budget justification document, ICE stated, “Based on Market Research, no other vendor can provide the same unique services that Nlets provides to the LESC.”Footnote 10
As Just Futures Law noted in its 2020 report on Nlets, “It is important to understand that state participation in Nlets, along with many other national or regional data exchanges, is voluntary. States can choose not to share information or limit the type of information shared through Nlets. Some states have already chosen not to share certain information, such as driver’s license photos, through Nlets.”Footnote 11