federal and local governments have long relied on private
companies for defense and law enforcement technologies, from
Lockheed Martin jetfighters to Booz Allen Hamilton data analysis.
But increasingly, the government is expanding beyond the usual
defense contractors to the company that also provides free
shipping and online TV.
“The . . .
thing that was shocking for me was to understand just how the
federal authorizations are allowing Amazon to have such a monopoly
over the storage of government information,” says Jacinta
Gonzalez, field organizer for immigrant advocacy group Mijente.
Along with the National Immigration Project and the Immigrant
Defense Project, Mijente funded a new report entitled, “Who’s
Behind ICE?: The Tech and Data Companies Fueling Deportations.”
findings are based on documents such as contracts, memoranda, and
corporate financial reports–which are publicly available but take
a lot of digging to decipher. (We’ve asked Amazon for feedback on
the accuracy of the report, but have yet to receive a response.)
tech workers became activists, leading a resistance movement
that is shaking up Silicon Valley
Amazon plays the leading role, the report also details the
involvement of companies including Peter Thiel’s Palantir, NEC,
and Thomson Reuters in storing, transferring, and analyzing data
on both undocumented residents and U.S. citizens. The U.S.
government is moving its databases from federal facilities to
cloud providers, especially Amazon Web Services (AWS), raising
concerns about accountability.
a transfer of discretion and power from the public sector to the
private sector in the form of these contracted technological
services,” says Shankar Narayan, director of the Technology and
Liberty Project at the ACLU in Washington State, which was not
involved in the report. Based in Seattle, Narayan tracks Amazon’s
growing role in law enforcement, such as its facial recognition
tech of disputed
accuracy, called Rekognition.
like Mijente draw attention to the extent of data gathering used
by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law
enforcement. “People on the ground have been more and more [saying
to us] ‘How do they have information about my taxes?’ How do they
have information about where I drive my car?'” says Gonzalez.
seen, and experienced, the gathering of biometric data in public.
“When I was working in New Orleans back in 2013 and 2014 . . . ICE
was stopping anyone that looks Latino,” claims Gonzalez. “And they
were handcuffing them and fingerprinting them using mobile
herself, a Mexico-born U.S. citizen, was transferred to
immigration custody after being arrested at a March 2016 civil
disobedience protest against then-candidate Donald Trump in
Phoenix, where she now works. (She refused to provide information
to authorities after her arrest to clarify her legal status.)
November, Mijente joined other organizations in a lawsuitdemanding
that ICE provide information on its abandoned plans for a series
of immigration raids in several US cities called “Operation Mega.”
ICE has a
mandate to enforce US immigration law, but it’s faced widespread
condemnation for tactics including the separation of families at
the US border. Gonzalez charges hypocrisy in how ICE uses its
substantial technological tools. “They have technologies to be
able to surveil you,” she says. “But somehow they can’t keep track
of your children when they’re being separated from you and ripped
out of your arms.”
of how governments use technology and data is exacerbated by a
lack of transparency, say activists. “I think we’ve raised that
concern, for example, around face surveillance,” says Narayan.
“It’s remote, it’s undetectable, it could be ubiquitous, and the
government doesn’t even have to really determine who they’re going
to follow around in advance.” But there’s reason to fear that this
surveillance will extend beyond immigration enforcement and
crime-fighting, he says, pointing to a history of political
surveillance from civil rights leaders in the 1960s to New York
City Muslim communities after 9/11.
information is even harder now that the technology and data are in
private hands, he claims. “That’s the dynamic that makes these
technologies hard to even detect, let alone to put some standards
of accountability around,” says Narayan. “You don’t get to crack
open that black box, because these entities will use trade
secret [protections], will use the Computer
Fraud and Abuse Act to prevent entities
from coming in and testing [their] products.”
really getting past the point of no return in terms of our ability
to put safeguards in place to hold these large corporations
accountable,” he says.