Big Tech Using Third Parties to Sell Surveillance Tools to ICE and Border Patrol
by Anthony W. Accurso
Google, Amazon, and Microsoft continued to sell surveillance technology to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) and Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”) using subcontractors despite publicly threatening to pull contracts with both agencies over concerns about human rights abuses.
The PR show followed after employees at the companies led internal protests objecting to the companies’ role in continued abuses. Despite the announcements condemning the tactics of the agencies, the companies continued to provide services but instead did so through third-party intermediaries.
Public records requests would have revealed any contracts with ICE and CBP, which is why the providers used subcontractors. Yet internal contracts and paper trails would have meant that “it’s all but impossible to remain unaware of what of third-party partners are doing with tech and software,” according to employees interviewed by Caroline Haskins of Business Insider.
According to Haskins, “[f]rom 2015 to 2021, Amazon used third parties to sell its cloud services at least 16 times to ICE and CBP. Google used third parties to sell various cloud and professional tools at least 28 times to these agencies. Microsoft used third parties to sell its cloud services and software more than 200 times to immigration agencies from 2002 to 2021, in addition to selling to ICE and CBP directly more than 100 times.”
What was provided ranged from office productivity software to analytics and APIs that are integral parts of surveillance systems.
The most notorious of the projects is a proposed system known as RAVEn (Repository for Analytics in a Virtualized Environment), “a system which will allow [ICE] to mine hundreds of thousands of documents for data in order to find people who aren’t authorized to work in the United States.” Participation in RAVEn was specifically on the list of projects objected to by Google employees. Yet ICE is willing to pay approximately $300 million for RAVEn, a fee that is likely to be shared by these big tech firms—through “reseller partners,” of course.
When asked about their continued involvement in surveillance programs like RAVEn, spokespersons for the three companies would not deny involvement, issuing a generic statement of “no comment” instead.
While ICE and CBP are no longer continuing the harshest and most repressive of the Trump administration’s policies, it remains to be seen whether the public or big tech employees will continue to object to these tech giants working with the agencies. ICE deportations reached a record high under President Obama, tearing apart many otherwise law-abiding, hard-working families. There is little reason to believe a Biden-led ICE will act much differently.
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