These Companies Are Helping Trump Wage ‘Technological Warfare’ Against Immigrants

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These Companies Are Helping Trump Wage ‘Technological Warfare’ Against Immigrants

Tina Vasquez

A new report reveals the depth of the technology utilized by the Trump administration to target immigrants, while providing insight into the information sharing that lead to some of ICE's most egregious attacks.

Technology companies are contracting with federal agencies to help the anti-immigrant Trump administration target, detain, and deport immigrants.

The administration’s efforts to stop immigration from Latin American and African nations include technologies like cloud hosting for easy information-sharing among law enforcement agencies domestically and abroad; iris scanners; mobile biometric devices; and data sets that include everything from DMV records and health-care provider information to cell phone records and license plate recognition.

This may sound like the plot of a dystopian movie, but according to a new report, it’s all happeningand it’s been in the works for a long time.

The report, Who’s Behind ICE: The Tech and Data Companies Fueling Deportations, commissioned by Mijente, the National Immigration Project, and the Immigrant Defense Project, outlines the key technology companies contracting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to streamline the process of targeting immigrants for deportation.

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The companies spotlighted include Amazon and its Web Services’ Justice and Public Safety program, which sells cloud services to state law enforcement agencies that share information with DHS. This cloud hosting is key to immigration enforcement as it allows local law enforcement agencies, for example, to share information with ICE to target immigrants. 

Amazon hosts the Peter Thiel-founded tech company Palantir and its Integrated Case Management System, which ICE maintains through a $53 million contract with Palantir. Thiel is an avid backer of the president. 

The services provided by Palantir are considered “mission critical” by ICE, as this integrated case management system enables the federal immigration agency to surveil, track, and deport immigrants nationwide. Palantir provides ICE with access to information regarding an immigrant’s “schooling, family relationships, employment information, phone records, immigration history, foreign exchange program status, personal connections, biometric traits, criminal records, and home and work addresses,” the Intercept reported

When ICE’s goal of acquiring a new integrated case management system was first made public, it was described as a “commercial solution to track its investigations from initial probes through prosecution.” Palantir was awarded the contract in 2014 and the Palo Alto, California-based company now provides ICE with all of its case management and analysis software.

Jacinta González, a senior campaign organizer at Mijente and an expert in organizing against immigration enforcement and criminalization of Latinx and immigrant communities, told Rewire.News that the “procurement process” for these tech services being contracted by ICE and DHS are “secretive,” with little known about the nature of the contracts, what exactly they entail, and the nature of the information-sharing capabilities provided. This is because federal agencies do not generally sign contracts with the providers, but with third-party contractors.

“The question I keep getting is, ‘Why should we care about this?’ The number of violations here are unbelievable. This means that ICE can access a person’s phone records without a warrant,” González said. “The impacts of this kind of surveillance are tremendous, and there’s no telling how it will ripple out.”

Another California-based tech company, Forensic Logic, Inc., provides the “most widely-used corporate platform for law enforcement information sharing with DHS,” according to the report. The LEAP Network and COPLINK, as they’re called, include key regional information sharing agreements in border states. These networks partner with Amazon Web Services’s Justice and Public Safety Program.

Thomson Reuters Corporation, the parent company of Reuters, one of the most respected and reputable news agencies in the word, also helps ICE carry out immigration enforcement. With large ICE contracts in hand, Thomson Reuters acts as a “data broker” for the federal immigration agency, interfacing with Palantir and Forensic Logic to share the personal identifying information of undocumented immigrants to be targeted for deportation.

IDEMIA France SAS and the Japanese company NEC Corporation provide federal immigration agencies with all of their biometrics needs, including fingerprint ID systems, Real ID-compliant identification cards, mobile biometric devices, facial recognition technology, and face and iris matching algorithms.

Who’s Behind ICE reveals clear conflicts of interest, including the work of Thomson Reuters Corporation and Amazon founder Bezos, who purchased the Washington Post in 2013. Reuters journalists have their own “Handbook of Journalism,” which says the agency’s journalists have to be independent and “free from bias,” and that everything the agency’s journalists produce must be “executed with the utmost integrity.” Under Bezos’ ownership, the Washington Post changed its tagline to, “Democracy dies in Darkness.” Both news outlets have broken stories about the unprecedented ways the Trump administration has gone after immigrant communities for detainment and deportation, including its recent targeting of Central American families. All the while, Reuters parent company and the Washington Post’s owner profit from the Trump administration’s attacks on immigrants. 

A spokesperson for Thomson Reuters Corporation told Rewire.News that the services the company provides to DHS and ICE “support active U.S. criminal investigations and priority cases involving threats to public safety and/or national security.” (It should be noted Trump’s executive order on immigration made anyone in the United States without authorization a “priority.”)

The spokesperson said the corporation’s products are not used by Border Patrol for patrolling the border “for undocumented immigrants or their detainment,” and that the “editorial integrity and freedom from bias in the gathering and dissemination of Reuters news is completely independent of the business’s commercial relationships.”

González said that involvement from Thomson Reuters and Amazon is more about profits, dominant monopolies, and what happens when “there is a huge concentration of power in the hands of a few people.”

“Do I think that there are journalists at these outlets committed to truth telling and going good work? Of course. Do I think there are people at these tech companies who think of themselves as good liberals? Yes. But at the end of the day, they work for large companies that prioritize business and profits over people,” González told Rewire.News. “Amazon is contracting with the federal government for billions of dollars, amounts of money I can’t even conceptualize, and it’s not to study climate change; it’s to help surveil and target immigrant communities because that’s where the money is. Amazon could be doing so much with its technology, but instead it’s working with ICE to deport people.”

There are nefarious conflicts of interest happening inside federal immigration agencies as well. The chief information officer (CIO) of the federal government is often a former or future tech industry executive, according to the report, “and codifying their power in IT acquisition decision-making strengthened industry influence over the contracting of its own services.

The first federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, who authored the government’s Cloud First policy, which required federal agencies to shift to cloud computing, left the office in 2012 to join the tech company Salesforce. The second federal CIO worked at Microsoft for more than ten years. The third federal CIO was with Microsoft and VMware before his 2015 federal appointment. Microsoft, Salesforce, and VMware now contract with the federal government for millions of dollars to provide cloud services to agencies like ICE, according to the report.

Much of the technology and information sharing being deployed by ICE and DHS for the purpose of targeting immigrants was made possible under the Obama administration. In 2010, the administration rolled out the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative with the goal of consolidating its thousands of expensive data centers. The way that has taken shape for federal immigration agencies is an increasing reliance on tech companies’ cloud services, like Amazon Web Services’ Justice and Public Safety program.

“The building of the surveillance state in this country and its detention and deportation system is actually bipartisan. There are differences between the Obama and Trump administrations, I’m not conflating them, but there are consistencies, and it only does us a disservice to not understand them and acknowledge that they’re there,” González said.

Before President Trump took office, immigrant rights advocates urged President Obama to put an end to flawed databases the Trump administration could use to target immigrant communities. This included gang databases maintained by ICE that contain an unknown number of people, but “more than 250,000 people in California’s and Texas’ gang databases alone, the majority of which are Latino,” the Intercept reported. “These databases are populated with intelligence from street stops and arrests by local police, which is then uploaded and shared between agencies.”
State-level gang databases are also a problem. An audit of California’s gang database, called CalGang, revealed rampant flaws, including the inclusion of 42 toddlers entered into the system before the age of 1 and the inclusion of information that violated the privacy rights of those in the database. Numerous people were entered into the database by law enforcement officials without evidence or notice.
Who’s Behind ICE is the first report to reveal the depth and breadth of the technology being utilized by the Trump administration to target immigrant communities, while providing insight into the information sharing that lead to some of ICE’s most egregious attacks. When coupled with Trump’s January executive order that quietly stripped noncitizens of privacy protections, a troubling picture emerges. 
In a way, González said, this is “technological warfare,” especially with the added context that much of this technology, like mobile biometrics devices, was first developed to be used during war. This time, the war is on immigrants. 
The Trump administration has deployed technology to harm immigrants, including the launch of its public database as part of its Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, effectively making the personal information of migrants publicly available to anyone with an internet connection. ICE has published the federally protected personal identifying information of immigrant women and girls fleeing violence. While working to digitize immigration records, including fingerprints, ICE has identified immigrants for denaturalization, many of whom have been naturalized citizens for decades. Because of information sharing between local law enforcement and ICE, Central American asylum-seeking boys are being falsely accused of gang membership and funneled into the school-to-deportation pipeline by school resource officers who monitor their social media accountsa tactic becoming increasingly common among ICE agents.
“One of the scariest things to me is that there is no way to know what information is being compiled against you or how, and there is no way to counter that information once it’s presented against you,” González said, noting that if a law enforcement official monitoring social media sees a post from you that suggests to them you are in a gang, that information gets entered into a database that can be accessed by unknown numbers of people in various agencies. Effectively, you can be made a gang member with a few keystrokes. 
“All of this information is being stored and accessed without any accountability or transparency and we know it will trickle down,” the organizer said. “Today, it’s immigrants, tomorrow it’s communities of color who voice dissent. These advancements in technology are kind of like one step forward and two steps back in terms of the judicial processand we all saw what happened to the Supreme Court [with the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh]. All of the checks and balances we had are slowly eroding, so the public has got to remain vigilant and take threats like this seriously.”