US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will spend at least $30 million to buy smartphone-hacking technology from Israeli company Cellebrite.
In June, ICE awarded a contract worth up to $35 million to Cellebrite, according to a federal filing, which was noticed by a researcher at Bellingcat, an investigative news outlet.
Cellebrite is best known for helping governments access data on locked cell phones. It recently claimed it could bypass the security on any iOS device to perform a “full file system extraction.”
According to the federal filing, ICE awarded Cellebrite the contract because it was the “only one responsible source” able to satisfy the agency’s requirements. In return, the agency is acquiring “universal forensic extraction devices” from Cellebrite, in addition to training and support services for at least one year, with the option to extend the contract for another four years.
According to Forbes, a Cellebrite UFED device costs between $5,000 to $15,000, which indicates that ICE may be poised to use the smartphone-cracking tech on a wider scale.
The contract comes as law enforcement agencies across the US have been buying up smartphone hacking tech to help them investigate criminal suspects and the devices they own. The big question is how immigration officials will use it. So far, the agency hasn’t commented on the contract.
Privacy groups have expressed concern that federal agents are engaging in warrantless searches of people’s electronic devices at the US border. In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the federal government over the activities, claiming it was violating the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
ICE is a separate agency from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which focuses on policing ports of entry, including airports. ICE, on the other hand, is tasked with enforcing immigration laws within the US. This includes investigating cross-border crime, such as drug and human trafficking, and stopping illegal immigration, which can involve workplace raids. Both agencies fall under the Department of Homeland Security.