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 happening—and 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.