- Mijente, Just Futures Law, and the No Border Wall Coalition highlight how CBP uses digital tools.
- A new report says CBP relies on cameras, drones, and license-plate-reading tech to monitor migrants.
- ICE also keeps biometric information like face, iris, fingerprint, and voice data, a report said.
US Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement use phone hacking, license-plate scanning, iris recognition, and a host of other surveillance technology to monitor the US border, according to a report released on Thursday by immigrant-rights groups.
“The Deadly Digital Border Wall,” compiled by Mijente, Just Futures Law, and the No Border Wall Coalition, doesn’t identify every piece of software and hardware the agencies use. One example is Raven, short for Repository for Analytics in a Virtualized Environment, a data-mining and analytics tool ICE is developing. But it does provide an overview of some of the key technologies that ICE and CBP rely on.
Cinthya Rodriguez, a Mijente organizer, said the US border was a “testing ground” for more widespread expansions of government surveillance.
“We remain steadfast in our #NoTechForICE demand and call on the Biden administration to follow up on promises made to immigrant communities with meaningful action,” she added.
Here are the top 14 border-surveillance technologies, according to the report:
- Automated license-plate recognition
This is a camera system that takes pictures of car license plates as they pass by and logs other relevant information like date, time, and place. Immigration agencies install these cameras at and near borders. CBP pays Motorola Solutions for it, while ICE pays Vigilant Solutions.
- Integrated fixed towers
Along the US-Mexico border, CBP operates tall towers designed to spot people from almost 10 miles away. The agency has paid the Israeli military contractor Elbit Systems to install these structures.
- Remote video surveillance
These surveillance towers are slightly smaller and movable. General Dynamics won a $177 million contract for installing these in 2013. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2023.
- Mobile video-surveillance system
This consists of a telescope, a laser light, a thermal-imaging device, and a video system that’s attached to the back of a truck, which itself is equipped with geospatial analytics. Since 2015, Tactical Micro has been providing CBP with dozens of the systems, and PureTech Systems has been providing the in-vehicle geospatial analytics.
- Autonomous surveillance towers
CBP uses these towers to scan the landscape for people. Anduril has been providing them since 2018. They come equipped with software designed to distinguish people from animals and store images of human faces.
CBP has used large and small drones to surveil remote areas of land, and even the sea, for evidence of migrants. General Atomics, AeroVironment, FLIR Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Anduril have all provided CBP with surveillance drones.
- E3 portal
This software sends files of fingerprint scans, pictures of faces, and iris images — captured by separate pieces of hardware — to both “ICE’s case management system for Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) and to the DHS-wide IDENT database,” the report said. According to the Department Homeland Security, the automated biometric identification system stores “260 million unique identities and processes more than 350,000 biometric transactions per day.”
- HART biometric database
According to the report, the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) System is a database of biometric data such as face images, DNA profiles, iris scans, fingerprint scans, and audio files, called “voice prints,” that’s hosted on Amazon Web Services and being developed by Northrop Grumman. It will eventually “replace the automated biometric identification system (IDENT) currently used by DHS,” the report said.
- Biometric facial comparison
This is a face-matching tool that CBP uses at the US border and entry ports like airports. A camera takes a picture of a traveler and compares it with a passport or other form of ID. CBP says it stores comparison photos of US citizens in IDENT for 15 years.
- CBP One application
This is a mobile app on which Border Patrol agents can collect biometric and other personal information on migrants and asylum seekers. Data that can be logged in to the app includes phone numbers, employment and family information, marital status, people traveling together, permanent address abroad, and destination in the US, as well as a photograph to be run through CBP biometric records, the report said.
- Mobile-phone hacking
Using services from the Israeli company Cellebrite, Canada’s Magnet Forensics, and the US company Grayshift, CBP can search mobile phones and other devices for information about a person. Grayshift and Cellebrite can sometimes unlock phones. US border agents don’t need warrants to search people’s devices, according to a 2019 court ruling, and border agents searched more than 40,000 devices in 2019, Reuters reported.
- Vehicle forensic kits
These are pieces of software designed to extract personal information stored in cars, including call logs and navigation histories. CBP has paid Berla Corp., which partnered with the Swedish mobile-forensics company MSAB, for this service.
- Venntel location tracking
Venntel, a subsidiary of the data broker Gravy Analytics, sells licenses to CBP and other DHS entities that allow them to use consumer cellphone data to track migrants and asylum seekers. A DHS document leaked to BuzzFeed News said it was possible to “combine” the consumer location data “with other information and analysis to identify an individual user.”
- Intelligent computer-assisted detection
ICAD is a system of underground sensors and cameras that “detects the presence or movement of individuals” and sends data back to CBP. Border Patrol agents then seek out the people captured on ICAD, ask these people for their biographic data, and store this information, according to the report.