Hundreds of Tech Companies Want to Cash In on Homeland Security Funding. Here's Who They Are and What They're Selling.

This post was co-written by EFF research intern Andrew Zuker.

Whenever government officials generate fear about the U.S.-Mexico border and immigration, they also generate dollars–hundreds of millions of dollars–for tech conglomerates and start-ups.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today has released the U.S. Border-Homeland Security Technology Dataset, a multilayered dataset of the vendors who supply or market the technology for the U.S. government’s increasingly AI-powered homeland security efforts, including the so-called “virtual wall” of surveillance along the southern border with Mexico.

The four-part dataset includes a hand-curated directory that profiles more than 230 companies that manufacture, market or sell technology products and services, including DNA-testing, ground sensors, and counter-drone systems, to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) components engaged in border security and immigration enforcement. Vendors on this list are either verified federal contract holders, or have sought to do business with immigration/border authorities or local law enforcement along the border, through activities such as advertising homeland security products on their websites and exhibiting at border security conferences.

It features companies often in the spotlight, including Elbit Systems and Anduril Industries, but also lesser-known contractors, such as surveillance vendors Will-Burt Company and Benchmark. Many companies also supply the U.S. Department of Defense as part of the pipeline from battlefields to the borderlands.

The spreadsheet includes a separate list of 463 companies that have registered for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement "Industry Day" events and a roster of 134 members of the DHS-founded Homeland Security Technology Consortium. Researchers will also find a compilation of the annual Top 100 contractors to DHS and its components dating back to 2006.

Download the dataset as an XLSX file through this link or access it as a Google Sheet (Google's Privacy Policy applies).

Border security and surveillance is a rapidly growing industry, fueled by the potential of massive congressional appropriations and accelerated by the promise of artificial intelligence. Of the 233 companies included in our initial survey, two-thirds promoted artificial intelligence, machine learning, or autonomous technology in their public-facing materials.

A heavy duty off-road vehicle with a surveillance camera at a border expo.

An HDT Global vehicle at the 2024 Border Security Expo. Source: Dugan Meyer (CC0 1.0 Universal)

Federal spending on homeland security has increased year over year, creating a lucrative market which has attracted investment from big tech and venture capital. Just last month, U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, Chair of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, defended a funding package that included a "record-level" $300 million in funding for border security technology, including "autonomous surveillance towers; mobile surveillance platforms; counter-tunnel equipment, and a significant investment in counter-drone capability." 

This research project was made possible with internship support from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, in collaboration with EFF and the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Drew Mitnick of the Böll Foundation, who was also involved in building a similar data set of European vendors, says mapping the homeland security technology industry is essential to public debate. "We see the value of the project will be to better inform policymakers about the types of technology deployed, the privacy impact, the companies operating the technology, and the nature of their relationships with the agencies that operate the technology," he said.​

Information for this project was aggregated from a number of sources including press releases, business profile databases, vendor websites, social media, flyers and marketing materials, agency websites, defense industry publications, and the work of journalists, advocates, and watchdogs, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the student researchers who contribute to EFF’s Atlas of Surveillance. For our vendor profiles, we verified agency spending with each vendor using financial records available online through both the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS.gov), and USAspending.gov websites.

While many of the companies included have multiple divisions and offer a range of goods and services, this project is focused specifically on vendors who provide and market technology, communications, and IT capabilities for DHSsub-agencies, including CBP, ICE and Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). We have also included companies that sell to other agencies operating at the border, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and state and local law enforcement agencies engaged in border enforcement.

The data is organized by vendor and includes information on the type of technology or services they offer, the vendor’s participation in specific federal border security initiatives, procurement records, the company's website, parent companies and related subsidiaries, specific surveillance products offered, and which federal agencies they serve. Additional links and supporting documents have been included throughout. We have also provided links to scans of promotional materials distributed at border security conferences.

This dataset serves as a snapshot of the homeland security industry. While we set out to be exhaustive, we discovered the corporate landscape is murky with acquisitions, mergers, holding companies, and sub-sub-contractors that often intentionally obscure the connections between the various enterprises attempting to rake in lucrative government contracts. We hope that by providing a multilayered view, this data will serve as a definitive resource for journalists, academics, advocates of privacy and human rights, and policymakers. 

This work should be the starting point for further investigation—such as Freedom of Information Act requests and political influence analysis—into the companies and agencies rapidly expanding and automating surveillance and immigration enforcement, whether the aim is to challenge a political narrative or to hold authorities and the industry accountable.

If you use this data in your own research or have information that would further enrich the dataset, we'd love to hear from you at aos@eff.org.


Monday 8th July 2024 5:24 pm

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