Tech firms fueled the rise of Homeland Security and home surveillance, report finds


Big tech firms together with Microsoft, LexisNexis, and Palantir have helped gas the militarization of native police forces and the Department of Homeland Security’s demand for high-tech surveillance, in accordance with a new report from The Action Center on Race & the Economy (ACRE), LittleSis, MediaJustice, and the Surveillance, Tech, and Immigration Policing Project. Researchers engaged on the mission dug into how these firms profit from a hidden and misunderstood supply of funding, which requires states to dump cash into regulation enforcement actions in the event that they wish to obtain cash for issues like emergency medical and response providers.

The report is particularly involved with FEMA’s Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grants, which the federal government has spent billions on within the years since 9/11. “The way that the grant program actually works is that DHS has an approved list of equipment that can be bought with the grant funding, but at least 30 percent of that money has to be used on law enforcement activities,” mentioned Aly Panjwani, a senior analyst who labored on the report. And as Panjwani and his colleagues level out of their evaluation, these actions normally have a disproportionate and destructive influence on folks of shade.

UASI funding comes with strings hooked up

He informed The Verge how this might put native governments in a bind. “If a city doesn’t want to accept money from the federal government for surveillance policing but desperately needs that emergency response money for hospitals, for emergency alert systems, other things that communities do need to keep themselves safe, they have to accept that funding because 30 percent must be allocated towards law enforcement activities.”

While many of the tech firms we depend on in our on a regular basis lives don’t make bodily weapons, a few of them do make and promote merchandise particularly supposed to surveil the inhabitants. One of the examples included within the report is LexisNexis, a agency that’s well-known for supplying journalists, students, and attorneys with entry to databases filled with paperwork. However, the corporate additionally provides information to law and immigration enforcement; in a single case, its software program contributed to a person named Khalid Al-Draibi being detained on terrorism fees, in accordance with the report. Even although the FBI ended up clearing him of these fees, ACRE says LexisNexis later used the case in PR for its software program. Al-Draibi wound up being deported.

The researchers additionally cite the existence of information fusion facilities, areas funded by the DHS the place native, state, and federal governments share information and knowledge with non-public firms like LexisNexis and Experian. The report says that Microsoft, which can be one of many DHS’s cloud computing suppliers, pushed for the facilities to be constructed and helped develop the infrastructure for them in some areas. It additionally goes into the extra typical surveillance tech that advantages from Urban Area Security Initiative grant funding: the NYPD’s surveillance community and cities that buy software program from ShotSpotter in an try to pinpoint gunfire or Palantir to attempt to forecast crime.

“These technologies are not being misused,” mentioned Alli Finn, a senior researcher for the report. “They’re being used exactly as the companies intended to be, and this is a key part of their business model.”

The report ends with a number of coverage options, together with that cities and states reject Urban Area Security Initiative funds and firms divest from information assortment and sponsorships of political assume tanks that push for stronger policing and surveillance. It additionally pushes for grassroots organizations to marketing campaign for these modifications.

That wouldn’t be a simple process. The Department of Homeland Security is now a $52.2 billion behemoth that has been round for 20 years now. And that monstrous funds retains rising regardless of its well-documented legacy of inefficacy, cruelty, and failure — from airport safety theater to home crackdowns.

There is not less than some precedent for native governments taking steps to forestall police forces from utilizing sure surveillance applied sciences on residents. We’ve seen cities like Portland, Maine, San Francisco, and Minneapolis ban using facial recognition methods like these made by Clearview AI, even because the federal authorities has began to broadly undertake the tech.

Finn says they haven’t seen any laws within the works that they assume may assist handle the problem, although the truth that the FTC is trying into regulating industrial surveillance is encouraging. “That ideally will help us limit some of the harms of the data broker industry,” they mentioned. “But it’s not addressing the source of the funding, and privacy legislation also doesn’t fully tackle all of these harms. There’s always a law enforcement exception.”


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