Nlets: Questions and Answers
Nlets (or NLETS, the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System) plays an outsized and often opaque role in immigration enforcement. Nlets is a network through which information is shared between states, between states and the federal government, between federal agencies, and between all these entities in the U.S. and parallel entities abroad. Commercial businesses play an undefined role as Nlets “strategic partners,” and the system also provides hosting services to businesses that serve “law enforcement.”
Nlets’s publicly available resources describe a system for sharing criminal justice and “public safety” information. But its uses extend far beyond that, enabling the sharing of driver’s license, vehicle registration, and biometric, biographical and other information in the service of civil immigration enforcement. And it is closely linked with commercial businesses that gather and share personal information in unregulated ways using Nlets.
Nlets’s operations are intertwined with the work of federal and state agencies, and the system performs inherently governmental functions. But despite this intimate relationship, it is not run by the federal government or directly by individual states. Instead, it is a “private not for profit [sic] corporation owned by the States [sic] that was created more than 50 years ago by the 50 state law enforcement agencies.” That institutional setup limits public information about Nlets and prevents meaningful accountability.
Despite the crucial role it plays in immigration enforcement, Nlets has received little attention. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has provided scant information about its use of Nlets, and the overall picture of how Nlets operates in the immigration context is hazy at best.
The questions and answers below outline some of what we know about Nlets and suggests steps advocates concerned about Nlets can take. This publication is a work in progress; we’ll update it as we learn more.
Download the questions and answers by clicking on the PDF icon, above.
- What is Nlets?
- Which federal agencies that play a role in immigration enforcement or immigration benefits are Nlets “core members”?
- What state driver’s license information can ICE obtain through Nlets?
- Can ICE obtain bulk driver’s license information about immigrants through Nlets?
- What driver history information can ICE obtain through Nlets?
- Can ICE obtain driver’s license photos through Nlets?
- What motor vehicle registration information can ICE obtain through Nlets?
- Can states limit access to DMV information through Nlets?
- What criminal justice information can ICE obtain through Nlets?
- What immigration information does ICE provide through Nlets?
- How is Nlets used for employment eligibility verification?
- What role does Nlets play in sharing information about unaccompanied minors and their sponsors?
- How does Nlets interact with businesses?
- Is Nlets the same as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database operated by the FBI?
- What are some of the problems with Nlets?
- What are some unanswered questions about Nlets?
- What can advocates do?
- APPENDIX A: Nlets Wiki/User Guide Table of Contents