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Report Documents ‘Lucrative Relationship’ Between Tech Companies And Trump’s Deportation Machine

A trio of immigration and Latinx-focused organizations committed to the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released a report on the “lucrative relationship” between tech companies and ICE.

According to the report [PDF], “Who’s Behind ICE? The Tech and Data Companies Fueling Deportations,” major corporations, like Amazon Web Services and Palantir, have “built a ‘revolving door’ to develop and entrench Silicon Valley’s role in fueling the incarceration and deportation regimes.”

If allowed to go “unchecked,” Mijente, the National Immigration Project, and the Immigrant Defense Project contend tech companies will continue to develop systems that target and punish those deemed “undesirable”—especially “immigrants, people of color, the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, activists, and others.”

The report urges states, cities, and municipalities that have “sanctuary city” policies to expand those systems by ending contracts, which allow for “unfettered information sharing” and biometric collection to and from ICE. They call for the severing of contracts with “private data brokers” that enable ICE’s deportation regime, as well as the dismantling of “predictive policing programs.”

Many employees of companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce, with ICE and other government agency contracts, have protested their management’s decision to permit President Donald Trump’s administration to use their services to target immigrants.

The organizations encourage tech company employees to keep raising their voices. They demand that management listen to immigrant rights activists as well as their employees, and abandon their contracts with military and immigration agencies that threaten human rights.

Of particular focus in the report is Amazon and Palantir’s influence. They play a massive role in helping federal agencies store data that is collected and used to deport immigrants.

The report thoroughly details how Palantir came to develop the case management system that ICE relies upon for its operations. A $53 million contract was signed with Palantir in September 2014 to “modernize” the system known as TECS. (At the same time, military contractor Northrop Grumman was granted a $400 million contract to further develop the system’s platform.)

Prior to this, In-Q-Tel, which is the company that invests in tech companies for the CIA, invested millions in Palantir.

Palantir provided software to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in 2011. They “signed a contract for operations and maintenance support services” for their Palantir Government software (now Palantir Gotham) in 2013, which was renewed in 2015. It was for around $39 million.

According to the report, “these contracts were dedicated to the development of the FALCON Search and Analysis (FALCON-SA) application used by ICE as an analytical tool to ‘store, search, analyze and visualize volumes of existing information in support of ICE’s mission to enforce and investigate violations of [United States] criminal, civil and administrative laws.”

The integrated case management system developed by Palantir works in “tandem” with the FALCON-SA system, and the Falcon-SA analyzes all ingested data, identifies connections, and produces intelligence reports on data.

Amazon Web Services will soon house the case management system on their cloud. The company currently provides hosting for numerous state and federal law enforcement agencies, which support deportation. The service’s “Justice and Public Safety Program” markets “cloud services to state law enforcement agencies that share information with DHS.”

Under Palantir’s contract, it creates and manages ICE/HSI cases, links “subject records to reports of investigations and cases,” shares data with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and “performs investigative research internal and external to ICE/DHS.”

Part of Palantir’s business strategy involves leveraging its contracts with the Homeland Security Department in order to expand its contracts with law enforcement agencies, especially those working with fusion centers in California.

Homeland Security Investigations has a law enforcement information sharing initiative that is designed to interface with Palantir’s case management system. Benefiting from this arrangement, Palantir has contracts with the Escondido Police Department, La Masa Police Department, National City Police Department, Oceanside Police Department, San Diego Police Department, San Diego Harbor Police, and San Diego Sheriff’s Department.

The company receives an Urban Areas Security Initiative grant that is managed by the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. This allows for collaboration between the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Long Beach Police Department, Burbank Police Department, Glendale Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Santa Monica Police Department, and other local agencies.

Fusion centers in San Diego County, Sacramento County, Orange County, and San Mateo County also are funded by the same grant and allow for agreements with Palantir on information sharing.

“Invoices from the above agencies show that they have spent over USD 50 million on Palantir products since 2009, primarily financed by DHS grants,” according to the report. “By implementing its software throughout California’s fusion centers and two major LEIS partner organizations in San Diego and Los Angeles metropolitan regions, Palantir created a certain degree of dependency on the part of other fusion centers and sheriff’s departments in the state and introduced their technology to municipal police through these regional sharing systems.”

The predictive policing software that may be used by Palantir to analyze data on immigrants, as well as others, allows for algorithms that can create a “racist feedback loop,” as the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition calls it. They can be designed to support policies of racial profiling and mass deportation, leading to the outcomes politicians desire.

ICE and DHS emphasize the potential of developing biometric collection. This market is expected to grow to $35 billion by 2020 from $15 billion in 2015. Half of this spending will likely be on law enforcement biometrics, including “automated fingerprint identification systems” and new technology for voice, iris, and facial recognition.

Collected biometric data will be fed into the very case management system developed by Palantir, and Amazon already has its own facial recognition technology that it has marketed to law enforcement, called Amazon Rekognition.

The Trump administration is interested in expanding biometric sharing with the Mexico government. Through the State Department, specifically the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INCLE) in Mexico City, it commissioned the construction of a biometric system for Mexico’s National Migration Institute in 2017 under the Merida Initiative that is valued at $75 million.

The system will target Central Americans detained in facilities in Mexico. William Brownfield, former head of INCLE, told the Washington Post that the system was all about stemming the flow of immigrants or refugees from Central America.

“Part of the reason the Mexican government was interested is that it brought them value by giving them a window into who was coming into Mexico, as well as those simply en route to the United States,” Brownfield declared. “And from the U.S. side, we accepted and understood that it is a lot easier, cheaper and more efficient to manage migrant flows from Central America to the U.S. at Mexico’s much smaller southern border than at our longer and more complicated [U.S.-Mexico] border.”

According to unnamed U.S. officials, “the goal is to have the capability to screen every migrant taken into custody in Mexico.”

“The private contractors that develop and maintain person-centric data systems supporting discriminatory, algorithm-driven immigration enforcement must be held accountable for their targeting of affected populations, as must the cloud service providers on which these systems increasingly live,” the report concludes.

“Amazon and Palantir’s contracts with DHS plant them firmly on the side of Trump. We must challenge our own movement to understand how the Trump administration in general, and DHS/ICE in particular, finds new ways to target our communities, and to use that information to inform our organizing strategies.”

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."