ICE wants to hack more phones. A lot more.
The contentious immigration enforcement agency has expanded its work with Cellebrite, an Israeli data extraction company best known for offering to crack the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone at the behest of the FBI in 2016. Cellebrite reportedly broke into the device for the Bureau, though the FBI disputed that story. The company’s technology can bypass most smartphones’ locks and download data from all their apps for law enforcement.
According to a recent federal filing, ICE will pay Cellebrite between $30 and $35 million for “universal forensic extraction devices” (UFED) and “accessories licenses, training and support services.” The contract, worth more than ten times the value of the $2.2 million agreement between the two agencies signed in 2017, will last between one and five years. The request originated from ICE’s Dallas office, according to a notice of intent posted June 24th. The synopsis of the contract also states that Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and its Cyber Crimes Center (C3) plan to use Cellebrite’s technology. Within ICE, HSI leads investigations into child trafficking, drug smuggling, and fraud.
A single UFED retails for $5,000 to $15,000, according to Forbes, meaning ICE could be buying as many as 6,000 the devices from Cellebrite.
It’s unclear what use ICE will put Cellebrite’s technology to and where it will do so. When The Daily Beast contacted ICE Contracting Officer Tracy Riley for details, Riley said she would “absolutely” not provide more details about the contract. Cellebrite did not respond to a request for comment. ICE’s office of public affairs responded to The Daily Beast but did not yet provide a comment.
CBP officers searched the devices of more than 30,000 international travelers in 2017—10,000 more than the year prior, according to the most recently available data (ICE does not make such data available). In response to a lawsuit filed against the two agencies last year, CBP and ICE said their searches were “a crucial tool for detecting evidence relating to terrorism and other national security matters” and “can also reveal information about financial and commercial crimes.”
Privacy advocates have decried warrantless searches of electronic devices at the border for allegedly violating constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizures.
ICE has become one of the Trump administration’s most controversial agencies within the technology industry and without. Employees have called on Amazon, the data management firm Palantir, and the business software company Salesforce to end their work with the department, and protesters around the country have taken to the streets to speak against ICE’s detention of migrants and their children in camps at the border.
—With additional reporting by Adam Rawnsley and Taylor Hatmaker