New Report: “DHS Open for Business: How Tech Corporations Bring the War on Terror to Our Neighborhoods”

Over the last 20 years, the Department of Homeland Security has turned the surveillance and policing of our cities into a $28 billion project, pouring federal “counterterrorism” grant funds into policing and surveillance technologies that militarize our communities while enriching some of the biggest tech companies, a new report DHS Open for Business: How Tech Corporations Bring the War on Terror to Our Neighborhoods reveals.

The report, co-written by the Action Center on Race & the Economy, LittleSis, MediaJustice, and the Surveillance, Tech, and Immigration Policing Project at the Immigrant Defense Project, reveals how DHS counterterrorism grant funding, like the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), and the corporations which advocate for it drive demand for “homeland security” and bring the War on Terror to our neighborhoods

The research found that DHS fueled a massive influx of money into surveillance and policing in our cities, under a banner of emergency response and counterterrorism—and with the support of its corporate partners like Microsoft, LexisNexis, ShotSpotter, Palantir, and Motorola Solutions

“The last twenty years have made clear that DHS relies on ‘counterterrorism’ and ‘emergency response’ to supercharge policing and surveillance in our neighborhoods. Since the founding of DHS, corporations have played an integral role in increasing funding for DHS and simultaneously marketing their products as ‘solutions’ that DHS funding can subsidize. While corporations get richer, we continue to live in a never-ending state of ‘emergency’ that is used to justify the intensified surveillance and policing of Muslim, Black, Brown, immigrant, and other communities of color,”  said Aly Panjwani, senior research analyst at ACRE.

Over the last twenty years, the President’s Budget for DHS ballooned from $19.5 billion in 2002 to almost $100 billion in 2023, channeling much of these funds to corporations. The report findings are focused on four cities—Los Angeles, Boston, New York City, and Chicago—documenting how UASI grants intensify local policing and benefit the multi-billion-dollar corporations who advocate for funding DHS. 

Specifically, UASI provides $615 million annually to local and state agencies for “counterterrorism” activities. UASI is part of DHS’s Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP), which has provided almost $28 billion in funding to local and state agencies since the department’s founding.

  • In New York City, UASI provided almost $400 million for the NYPD’s Domain Awareness System (DAS), a 24/7 live feed of surveillance data tracking New Yorkers custom built by Microsoft, increasing the NYPD’s ability to target and criminalize Black, Brown, and immigrant New Yorkers.
  • LA County Sheriff’s Department used $24 million in UASI dollars for a Palantir contract for its fusion center, one of the many government-run mass surveillance black boxes across the country known for targeting Muslims and political protesters.
  • In 2016, Chicago signed a five-year $25 million radio contract with Motorola Solutions paid for with UASI funds, increasing its police budget.
  • ShotSpotter contracts across Cambridge, Chelsea, Somerville, and Boston have been paid for by UASI funding for almost a decade. ShotSpotter is a gunshot detection technology that is often faulty, has led to police murder and false arrests, and increases police presence in our neighborhoods.

“In New York City, UASI has channeled $400 million into the NYPD’s 24/7 mass surveillance system, built by Microsoft. UASI grants are yet another example of how DHS uses a shield of ‘counterterrorism’ to justify billions in spending on surveillance, local police militarization, and deportation while avoiding public scrutiny and accountability. Much of this money goes toward corporations that track, extract, and sell our most intimate data. We must shut off these counterterrorism funding pipelines that increase policing and surveillance in our neighborhoods and make corporations richer at the expense of our communities,” said Alli Finn, Senior Researcher with the Surveillance, Tech, & Immigration Policing Project at the Immigrant Defense Project. 

In this report we shine a light on tech corporations, who seized on the Global War on Terror as an opportunity to increase their profits and expand their influence—through long-term government contracts and seats in policy making circles—extending their reach into every facet of our everyday lives. This over-reach and profiteering has had tremendously damaging impacts on Muslim communities abroad and immigrant and communities of color here in the US. Meanwhile, Big Tech corporations have only become more profitable and more powerful by fueling this never-ending war that militarizes our neighborhoods and wields our personal data as ammunition.” said Munira Lokhandwala, Director of Tech + Training at LittleSis.

The report concludes with a number of recommendations including,

  • Local city and state officials should reject Urban Area Security Initiative funding and instead invest in public services like education, housing, and healthcare. 
  • Federally, Congress should immediately cut Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) funding by 50 percent and separate funding for emergency response and immigration services from the DHS budget, on the path to total divestment.
  • Corporations like Microsoft, LexisNexis, and Motorola Solutions should stop driving policies that fuel policing in our communities for profit and withdraw funding and sponsorship from law enforcement associations and think tanks pushing “counterterrorism” policies that harm our communities.

“Released just weeks after the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Department of Homeland Security, this report illustrates how millions of dollars in public funds have been funneled toward corporate contracts for high-tech policing and surveillance tools through DHS grant funding. For years, MediaJustice and MediaJustice Network members across the country have organized to ban Urban Areas Security Initiative-funded surveillance tools, such as automated license plate readers and predictive policing, which disproportionately impact marginalized communities. It’s high time local city officials reject Urban Areas Security Initiative funds and instead invest in community resources that keep us safe, such as education, healthcare and housing,” said Rumsha Sajid, National Field Organizer at MediaJustice.

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ACRE is a campaign hub for organizations working at the intersection of racial justice and Wall Street accountability. We provide research and communications infrastructure and strategic support for organizations working on campaigns to win structural change by directly taking on the financial elite that are responsible for pillaging communities of color, devastating working class communities, and harming our environment. www.acrecampaigns.org 

LittleSis, also known as Public Accountability Initiative, is a nonprofit public interest research organization focused on corporate and government accountability. PAI maintains LittleSis.org, a free database detailing the connections between powerful people and organizations. Visit us at www.public-accountability.org and www.littlesis.org.

MediaJustice boldly advances racial, economic, and gender justice in a digital age by fighting for just and participatory platforms for expression. We harness community power through the MediaJustice Network of more than 70 local organizations to claim our right to media and technology that keeps us all connected, represented and free. www.mediajustice.org

The Surveillance, Tech, and Immigration Policing Project (STIP) is housed at the Immigrant Defense Project, a nonprofit based in New York City. STIP challenges the growing surveillance state by focusing on policing and migrant control, and tackles the rapidly expanding role of technology corporations in undermining local governance. The project supports organizing to build collective public knowledge and political infrastructure to end state violence and to grow a just digital future. See more info here: https://www.immigrantdefenseproject.org/surveillance-tech-immigration-policing/.