Cellebrite, an Israeli firm that sell forensics tools capable of bypassing the security on most cellphones, has secured a new $30 million contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Daily Beast reported late Wednesday.
Cellebrite’s phone cracking technology and its flagship product, the Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED), have been sold to numerous U.S. law enforcement agencies. The tools have allowed police in the field to harvest sensitive information from cellphones, including text messages, pictures, videos, and internet browsing histories, among other personal details.
ICE, whose targeting of undocumented immigrants without criminal records under the Trump administration has become one of the most controversial topics in the U.S., will pay Cellebrite between $30 million and $35 million for UFED devices, according to a filing first reported by the Beast, which noted a 2017 contract between the two parties was worth far less ($2.2 million).
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ICE did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
Cellebrite was reported to have worked with the FBI amid its efforts to unlock the iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter in 2015, though a few officials, speaking anonymously to reporters, later dismissed the claim.
In 2017, Motherboard reported that Cellebrite counted among its customers a number of repressive regimes, including Russia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.
Border searches of electronic devices have become a top issue for civil libertarians and privacy advocates who say the rights of travelers are being routinely violated. In a famous example, border agents detained an employee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in 2017 while demanding that he unlock his phone.
Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say authorities are rampantly using the pretext of legitimate border searches as an “end run around the Constitution.” The Department of Homeland Security, meanwhile, contends electronic searches are necessary to protect the country.
After seizing control of the House last year, the Democrats agreed to significantly enhance the Department of Homeland Security’s surveillance budget—purchases they spun as a technologically superior solution to border security than the “medieval” wall long sought after by President Trump and the GOP.
[The Daily Beast]