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Tech Companies Under Fire for Supporting Immigration Enforcement, Deportations

— October 24, 2018

Technology firms like Amazon, Palantir and Microsoft are making millions from U.S. immigration enforcement, according to a new report detailed by The Guardian.

High-profile corporations are purportedly providing the federal government with tools which aid in the surveillance, detention and deportation of undocumented migrants. The findings were published Tuesday in a report put together by a collection of advocacy organizations.

The report, writes The Guardian, outlines ways in which the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has expanded its digital reach.

Despite the money to be made serving the federal government’s anti-immigrant agenda, many infrastructure and technology companies ‘have faced growing internal and external pressure to cancel their contracts.’

“During this time of continued escalated abuse by ICE and the Department of Homeland Security, we’ve been frustrated, scared and shocked by the level of secrecy around how many of these tech contracts are procured,” said Jacinta Gonzalez of Mijente, one of the non-profit groups that backed the report. “These technologies are being used in real time, and so many companies are profiting.”

The full report was commissioned by Mijente produced by research firm Empower LCC.

ICE, claims, uses cloud-based data and analytics to build profiles of undocumented migrants and track their whereabouts. Spending on information technology accounts for close to 10% of the Department of Homeland Security’s budget, with a dollar amount bordering $7 billion.

Some immigration advocates have criticized ICE for allowing its agents to wear “POLICE” identifiers. Under President Trump, ICE has significantly increased deportations of undocumented migrants with non-criminal records. Image via Wikimedia Commons/public domain. No uploader information given.

“The Trump administration is pushing an incredibly racist and xenophobic policing agenda,” Gonzalez told Fortune. “Tech and data companies’ involvement is part of this expansion.

“The government could be contracting tech companies for environmental reasons, but instead it’s targeting communities of color, specifically people organizing for their rights.”

Mijente, says Fortune, has pressured Palantir to cancel a $51 million contract with ICE. Palantir is currently collaborating with the agency to ‘build a web case management system’ designed with migrant deportation as its ultimate aim.

Information collected by Palantir draws on DHS and FBI databases. Along with connecting undocumented border-crossers with real and assumed identities, the profiles include “schooling, family relationships, employment information, phone records, immigration history, foreign exchange program status, personal connections, biometric traits, criminal records, and home and work addresses.”

Amazon assists by providing the virtual space and physical resources needed to host Palantir’s system; the company also hosts a backup of the Department of Homeland Security’s biometric information.

Amazon, reports Fortune, has suffered some internal dissent from its decision to sign contracts with law enforcement and immigration authorities. An open letter sent to CEO Jeff Bezos said tracking technologies militarize police and torment migrant workers.

Of particular concern to some employees is Amazon’s ‘Rekognition’ facial recognition software, along with technical support rendered to ICE associates.

The American Civil Liberties Union has taken notice, too, issuing a statement urging Amazon to reconsider its resource allocation.

“Amazon says Rekognition can be used to identify ‘people of interest,’ raising the possibility that those labeled suspicious by governments—such as undocumented immigrants or Black activists—will be seen as fair game for Rekognition surveillance,’ ACLU wrote in a blog post.

Mijente says the most concerning aspect of high technology’s latest developments is that they may enable oppressive governments to effectively silence dissidents.

“Surveillance and silencing of communities that express dissent is nothing new, but technology facilitates it so much more that it reaches new levels,” Gonzalez said. “This concentration of power and influence is unprecedented in a lot of ways.”


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