A US government IT contractor, which developed cloud analytics services for US immigration authorities to track and target immigrants.
Booz Allen Hamilton is an information technology (IT) company headquartered in McLean, Virginia. It provides analytical, engineering, cybersecurity, and cloud solutions almost exclusively to the U.S. Government. In 2020, it derived 97 percent of its $7.8 billion revenue from contracts with the U.S. federal government, mostly the military, intelligence agencies, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Between 2003 and 2021, the company had over 50 contracts with DHS’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with a total potential value of $849.6 million.
Predictive targeting and facial recognition with RAVEn
Booz Allen Hamilton has developed a cloud-based analytics platform for ICE called the Repository for Analytics in a Virtualized Environment (RAVEn). ICE awarded the company this $25.5 million contract in 2018, with a potential end date of 2024. RAVEn is a “big data” platform that performs analytics using artificial intelligence (AI) on large raw datasets, so that ICE can make sense of that information in order to identify targets, as well as predict patterns and connections between entities and events.
RAVEn has access to several databases and links photographs, videos, documents, text, biometrics, and other types of data through machine learning models. RAVEn includes personal information such as location, financial data, telecommunications, biometrics, and biographic information on both U.S. citizens and immigrants. This information is obtained from U.S. government sources, such as law enforcement agencies, and commercial providers, such as license plate reader databases. RAVEn is hosted on Amazon Web Services, which is a key commercial partner of Booz Allen Hamilton.
Because RAVEn uses data that is already in possession of government agencies and private companies, rather than collecting new information, people are not notified when their information is stored in its database. RAVEn draws on information from other systems, such as the commercial phone surveillance platform Pen-Link, ICE’s Immigration Bond Management System, and the Northrop Grumman-designed Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology System (HART), DHS’s main biometrics database.
RAVEn also expands ICE’s facial recognition capabilities, as it serves as the portal through which ICE agents submit facial images to be recognized. These photos include mugshots, surveillance photos, images confiscated from phones or other devices. RAVEn can also facilitate search through the databases of other government agencies, like law enforcement, and tied to driver’s license records, reinforcing collaboration between police, Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and immigration authorities.
In addition to government systems, RAVEn also matches facial images against commercial databases that ICE subscribes to. One such database, run by Clearview AI, scrapes social media images, without permission either from social media companies or their users, into its database of more than 3 billion pictures. In 2020, Clearview AI signed a contract with ICE, allowing ICE agents to compare their probe photos against Clearview AI’s database of social media images, through the Booz Allen Hamilton-developed RAVEn portal.
Clearview AI’s facial recognition has been banned for use by law enforcement in New Jersey, deemed illegal by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and is the subject of a lawsuit by the Vermont Attorney General and multiple civil rights, racial justice, and community organizations. Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and Twitter have all sent cease-and-desist letters to Clearview AI for violating their terms of service by scraping their data.
ICE uses photos from social media and surveillance activities even though it acknowledges that they are technically difficult to match. DHS further acknowledges that “facial image matching results may be inaccurate or result in a disproportionate impact to certain populations,” due to inherent biases based on race, sex, age, and other factors.
The RAVEn platform poses serious privacy concerns beyond its facial recognition element. As with other DHS databases, information can be stored for up to 20 years after an investigation is closed. Bulk uploads of personal information, as is the case with most big data processes, is rarely supervised in detail. Personal social media posts, mugshots, DMV information, geolocation data, and telecommunications records, among other personal details, can all be uploaded en masse, and ICE acknowledges that RAVEn may store inaccurate, out-of-date, or irrelevant information.
Other Immigration Databases and Surveillance Systems
Booz Allen Hamilton is a subcontractor on multiple ICE big data and surveillance. In 2018, the company received a subcontract award to work on the massive DHS biometric database in development, known as the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology system (HART). The project’s primary contractor was Northrop Grumman, while Booz Allen Hamilton received a $143.6 million contract as a subcontractor.
HART expands the capabilities of IDENT, predecessor database, which already contains biometric profiles of 268 million people as of April 2021. HART collects and analyzes facial images, DNA profiles, iris scans, digital fingerprints, and voice prints in order to construct unique profiles of hundreds of millions of people in combination with other biographic information. HART sources this information from, and shares it with, other federal agencies, local law enforcement, and certain foreign governments.
In addition, from 2014 to 2019, Booz Allen Hamilton received $21.9 million from ICE to develop its Investigative Case Management (ICM) system, a repository of personal information that ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) uses to target and deport individuals. For example, ICM was used in 2017 to track down the parents and other relatives of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, in what turned out to be a precursor to the Trump administration’s family separation policy.
The ICM system was developed using Palantir Technologies’ proprietary software. Booz Allen Hamilton’s 2014 contract included migrating ICE’s old case management system onto the Amazon cloud and providing additional “cross-system” integration with other data sources, such as CBP’s Seized Currency and Asset Tracking System (SEACATS).
Booz Allen Hamilton also worked to develop use cases, features, and requirements for ICE’s EDDIE biometric mobile application, which “collects and shares — in real time — fingerprints, facial scans, location information, and immigration history during immigration raids.” EDDIE feeds the acquired data into surveillance databases such as HART to check for matches. ICE raids result in many “collateral” arrests of non-targeted individuals, which means that anyone stopped by ICE in the course of a raid can be subject to biometric profiling.
Political Influence and Other Controversies
Booz Allen Hamilton has strong political ties to the U.S. military. Board member Michele Flournoy was the Under Secretary of Defense from 2009-12, after having held key positions at the Department of Defense since the mid-1990s. Flournoy co-founded WestExec, a consulting firm with strong ties to the Biden administration, and was herself widely expected to be selected as Secretary of Defense until January 2021. Flournoy also co-founded the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a think tank with significant influence in the Biden administration.
Booz Allen Hamilton has close ties to authoritarian regimes, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, where it helped develop national security and spying agencies. Before Edward Snowden revealed the U.S. government’s “secretive data-mining program that was collecting phone records, email conversations, [and] internet histories of millions of people around the globe,” he worked as a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA).
From 2002 to 2021, the company spent $5 million on lobbying in Washington, of which 97 percent was spent from 2014-21, in relation to issues including cybersecurity and defense, IT modernization, privacy and artificial intelligence, the European Deterrence Initiative (a military operation to “enhance the capability and readiness of U.S. Forces and NATO”), and defense appropriations. In 2019, Booz Allen Hamilton registered a Political Action Committee (PAC) that managed to raise over $200,000 that fiscal year.