Why I’m Boycotting Thomson Reuters at #AALL19

Tom Boone
Tom Boone
Jul 8, 2019 · 4 min read
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With the 2019 AALL Annual Meeting and Conference less than a week away, law librarians and legal information professionals from all over the country will travel to Washington, DC, for education, meetings, and socializing. Also in attendance at AALL, as they are every year, will be representatives from Thomson Reuters (TR).

TR is a Silver-level sponsor of this year’s conference and will, no doubt, have their usual large swath of real estate in the exhibit hall. TR employees will speak in several sessions in the educational program, sponsor various events, and hold their huge annual “customer appreciation” party at the Library of Congress, where AALL members eat and drink at the company’s expense and line up to pose for photos with colleagues that will be branded with the TR corporate logo.

What TR’s representatives are unlikely to discuss at the conference is the company’s ongoing contracts with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE), providing the government agency with vast amounts of data, including phone records, credit histories, DMV records, pay day loan data, arrest records, “live access to more than 7 billion license plate detections,” and many other types of personal data.

ICE, one would logically assume, uses the data provided by TR to locate, detain, and incarcerate undocumented immigrants. The current presidential administration’s “war on immigration” is now well-known to involve the separation of families and the detention of children in squalid camps by ICE.

Privacy International, a United Kingdom charity focused on protecting people’s privacy from invasive government and corporate surveillance, recently sent a letter to TR CEO James C. Smith, asking him about the nature of the company’s contracts with ICE, including whether the data is used to identify families for immigration enforcement and whether TR would commit to not providing products or services “which may be used to enforce cruel, arbitrary, and disproportionate measures” by ICE or any other agencies.

Privacy International received a response from TR Special Services CEO Stephen Rubley that failed to address any of the specific inquires or requests for commitments in the original letter.

Rubley’s only specific denial stated, “[TR’s] products are not used by the Border Patrol Division for purposes of patrolling the border for undocumented immigrants or their detainment.” As only a portion of ICE’s immigration enforcement work consists of “patrolling the border,” Rubley’s denial leaves open the possibility that TR’s products are used for any other kind of work by ICE, such as the widely-publicized mass immigration raids announced recently by the President.

While it is unlikely that anyone from TR who is attending the AALL Annual Meeting has anything to do with the company’s work with ICE, I’ve decided as a matter of personal conscience that I will not participate in any specific events at the conference in which TR is involved.

In strict terms, due to TR’s status as a Silver sponsor of the entire conference, this might mean I opt not to attend the conference at all. I’ve considered this option, and for better or worse, I’ve decided to attend, if only to see colleagues from across the country I don’t get to see often.

However, other than attend the conference itself, I decline to:

  1. Set foot in any Thomson Reuters booths in the AALL Exhibit Hall;
  2. Attend any AALL program or other event run by or sponsored by Thomson Reuters; or
  3. Attend any educational program session with a Thomson Reuters speaker.

The following AALL events specifically mention TR as a sponsor:

  • Leadership Training for SISs (by invitation) (sponsored by Thomson Reuters)
  • Leadership Training for Chapters (by invitation) (sponsored by Thomson Reuters)
  • CONELL: Check-in & Breakfast (sponsored by Thomson Reuters)
  • CONELL: Check-in & Breakfast (sponsored by Thomson Reuters)
  • Leadership Luncheon for Committees, Award Juries, SISs, and Chapters (by invitation) (sponsored by Thomson Reuters)
  • Thomson Reuters Litigation Analytics: Data-driven Insights for Winning Strategies (members only)
  • Thomson Reuters Customer Appreciation Party (aka “The West Party”)

The following educational program sessions feature TR representatives as speakers:

  • D6: Fostering the NextGen Library Professional: How the Changing Legal Market Shapes Our Roles
  • D7: Deep Dive: The Federal and State Court Analytics Market — Should the Buyer Beware? What’s on the Horizon?
  • H3: Artificial Intelligence and Implicit Bias

I know many AALL attendees will disagree with my decision to boycott TR booths and events. But to be clear, this is in no way meant as some form of “punishment” toward the TR representatives attending the conference—and I’d be happy to chat or grab a drink with any of them outside of the conference.

Nor am I begrudging or condemning anyone speaking on or attending a program with TR reps.

And I am not demanding or expecting anyone else to join my boycott.

This is, as I wrote above, a matter of personal conscience. It is simply a question of what I will or won’t do in order to live in accordance with my own principles.

In this instance I’ve decided that my principles do not allow me to participate in TR-sponsored functions at the conference, so long as TR continues working with ICE and refuses to commit to not providing products and services “which may be used to enforce cruel, arbitrary, and disproportionate measures.”

I’ve written this post to share information with other AALL attendees so they’re aware of TR’s business relationship with ICE and its non-response to Privacy International’s inquiries.

Each person can then decide for themselves—on an informed basis—whether to take any action.

I also call upon AALL and its board to take a principled stand: Do not accept future sponsorship from Thomson Reuters unless and until it ceases working with ICE and commits to non-cruel, non-arbitrary, and non-disproportionate uses of its products and services.

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