How Amazon and other tech companies help with the deportation of migrants. 

Technology companies such as Amazon and Palantir earn big money with the deportation of migrants in the US. Actually, it is even more staggering: they also help to make this deportation possible.

To understand the link between technology companies and the American deportation services, it should be clarified first how these technology companies work and what their relationship is with the American government.

Take Amazon now. It is a name that most of us associate with online shopping. But retail is only a small part of what Amazon does. The company has specialized over the past few years in offering online storage space, the so-called cloud storage. The branch of the company that specializes in this is called AWS, which stands for Amazon Web Services.

AWS was initially developed as an internal platform for Amazon. It served to manage data about customers, sections, and products. But soon Amazon realized that the developed technology could be outsourced to other companies. A smart move, because AWS is currently the fastest growing branch of Amazon. To give an idea: in 2018, AWS was responsible for 73 percent of Amazon's total turnover.

More and more companies are using AWS directly or indirectly, via intermediaries, to store their data. After all, that is much cheaper than managing servers yourself. Moreover, companies such as Amazon have the right technology and know-how to process, to analyze and to manage data. Simply put: it all comes down to the outsourcing of information technology.

Nothing wrong? It depends on how you look at it. By outsourcing information technology, companies also give much away. Because a company like AWS has so much data available, it can increasingly monopolize data and knowledge peculiar to specific sectors. This not only concerns the data itself but also the metadata: the data about the data that makes patterns, structures, and tendencies clear. That offers a great competitive advantage.

Revolving doors

Not only companies are interested in storing their data in the 'cloud'. In times when savings seem to be the mantra, governments see more and more advantages in the outsourcing of information technology. That is certainly the case for the American government. In 2010, a Cloud-First Policy was adopted in the US. It meant that the US concluded contracts with private companies to store and manage its government data.

Given the eagerness with which the American government made the switch to the cloud, it is not surprising that there are quite a few revolving doors between Washington and Silicon Valley. The architects and main executors of the Cloud-First Policy made the transition from the government to tech companies or from tech companies to the government. Congressmen who lobbied to force through the Cloud-First Policy were given considerable support for their electoral campaigns from tech companies such as Amazon. It were also those companies that walked off with the most interesting contracts.

ICE

One of the departments most enthusiastic about making the switch to the cloud was the Department of Homeland Security. This department was created by President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. It, in turn, contains seven agencies, including US Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) and US Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE). It is this agency that mainly engages in actively tracking undocumented migrants and deportation.

In order to organize deportations and arrests, ICE uses software from the Palantir company. Palantir enables agents of ICE to search through regional, local, state and federal databases and to link data from those databases. In this way, 'profiles' are drawn up of immigrants and the networks in which they reside. This is done on the basis of both public and private data - including social media data.

The profiles and the awareness of a number of matters that are created by linking different databases, in turn, yield a huge number of new data. It is this new data from which Palantir outsources the storage and management to AWS. Thus Amazon.

AWS also offers its servers for the back-up of all biometric data collected by the Department of Homeland Security. And they are certainly not few in number. It concerns data that can be connected to 230 million identities. The database contains mainly fingerprints, but also 36.5 million face prints and 2.8 million irises are included.

The system with which the Department of Homeland Security manages this biometric data is called IDENT, but will be replaced by a new system that operates entirely in the cloud. The cloud will therefore no longer function merely as a back-up as it is now the case. Much more than today, this new system will be able to match different biometric data with each other. Exactly which companies will deliver the cloud services is not yet known.

All the different departments of DHS share biometric data with each other and with the FBI. Through the FBI, DHS then has access to data from all local and regional police departments. The biometric data that DHS collects are also shared with the Mexican government. One of the main reasons for doing that is checking migration to the US.

Cloud industrial complex

It is not just Palantir and Amazon that sell their services to ICE and the US government. Companies such as PrizumInc, Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte Consulting, Global Networks, IBM, Adobe and Zoom also enable the American deportation policy by selling technical know-how, expertise, software and server space to the US government. In exchange, they not only receive money, but they also get their hands on a lot of data.

What has emerged in recent years can perhaps best be described as a 'cloud industrial complex'. Because technology companies know that there is a lot of money to be gained from the government, they actively lobby for contracts and market products and services that fit into the government's agenda.

Ultimately, it is no longer the government that relies on private companies, but private companies that determine the agenda of the government. The deportation machine is thus not only driven by politics but also by the profit hunger of tech companies.

Victims

The price for the profit hunger of companies such as Palantir and Amazon is paid in the first place by the victims of the deportation policy. Because of the technology that these companies make available to the government, ICE succeeds in collecting and processing more and more information. And information is the fuel on which the deportation machine runs.

A direct consequence of the interference of technology companies is that the resistance of progressive cities against Trump's migration policy can be circumvented. Because databases are linked together, ICE can provide information about residents anyway. Even if they live in cities that refuse their cooperation.

Since 30 June of this year, ICE has held 44,435 people in various deportation centers. For the most part, it concerns people who have not committed a crime. They simply do not have the right documents. (for more information about this: see point C below this publication) 

Because of these deportations, parents are also separated from their children. Between 2015 and 2017, 87,351 people were deported who had at least one child born in the US. Between January and September 2017, ICE arrested more than 110,000 people suspected of illegal residence.

In addition to the people who come into direct contact with the American deportation machine, there are also the indirect and potential victims of this policy. The big question is where this evolution will lead to. How long will this enormous wealth of data about citizens remain safe in the hands of private companies? And how can that data remain safe when the revolving door between Washington and Silicon Valley continues to stay wide open?

A) The full report on which this post is based can be consulted here.

B) Related articles: 

C) With regard to "people who have not committed a crime. They simply do not have the right documents": this article can provide more information about this subject. 

Where the Obama administration focused deportation efforts almost exclusively on criminals and national security threats, as well as immigrants who recently arrived illegally, the Trump administration has also targeted immigrants with what are called final orders of removal -- an order from a judge that a person can be deported and has no more appeals left.

Including people with decades-old final orders of removal as priorities is more about boosting numbers by targeting easily catchable individuals than about public safety threats. People with final orders, especially those who are checking in regularly with ICE, are easy to locate and can be immediately deported without much legal recourse. As a result of the change in ICE policy, headlines about heart-wrenching cases of deportation separating children from parents or caregivers have been a regular occurrence.

A small example is the story of Amer Adi, an Ohio businessman who lived in the US for nearly 40 years and has a wife and four daughters who are all American citizens. Through a complicated dispute about his first marriage, Adi lost his status and was ordered deported in 2009, but ICE never opted to remove him from the country. His congressman even introduced a bill to protect Adi, saying he was a "pillar" of the community, but last fall, ICE told Adi to prepare to be deported.  

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