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EPIC v. ICE (Mobile Forensics)

Top News

  • EPIC Sues ICE Over Technology Used to Conduct Warrantless Searches of Mobile Devices: EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement for details of the agency's use of mobile forensic technology to conduct warrantless searches of mobile devices. ICE has contracts with a company called Cellebrite for techniques to unlock, decrypt, and extract data from mobile devices, including personal data stored in cloud-based accounts. Privacy complaints regarding the search of mobile devices at the border continue to increase. In a statement to Congress last year, EPIC warned that enhanced surveillance at the border will impact the rights of U.S. citizens. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) have introduced legislation to place restrictions on searches and seizures of electronic devices at the border. (Apr. 9, 2018)
  • EPIC, Coalition Oppose Government's 'Extreme Vetting' Proposal: EPIC and a coalition of civil rights organizations have sent a letter to the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security strongly opposing the Extreme Vetting Initiative. A similar letter was sent by technical experts. The government's 'Extreme Vetting' initiative uses opaque procedures, secret profiles, and obscure data including social media post, to review visa applicants and make final determinations. EPIC has warned against both the government's use of social media data and secret algorithms to profile individuals for decision making purposes. EPIC is also pursuing a FOIA request for details on the relationship between the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and Palantir, a company that provides software to analyze large amounts of data. (Nov. 16, 2017)
  • More top news

  • CBP Plans to Exempt Social Media Data from Legal Protections + (Sep. 22, 2017)
    Customs and Border Protection has published a system of records notice for the "Intelligence Records System." The agency proposes to exempt the database from many Privacy Act safeguards. The database contains detailed personal data from social media and commercial data services. CBP will use the "Analytical Framework for Intelligence" to secretly profile and evaluate social media users. In the FOIA lawsuit EPIC v. CBP, EPIC uncovered Palantir's role in Analytical Framework for Intelligence, a program that assigns "risk assessment" scores to U.S. travelers. EPIC is now pursuing a FOIA request to Immigration and Customs Enforcement seeking details of the agency's relationship with Palantir.
  • EPIC FOIA: EPIC Seeks Details of ICE, Palantir Deal + (Aug. 15, 2017)
    EPIC has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Immigration and Customs Enforcement seeking details of the agency's relationship with Palantir. The federal agency contracted with the Peter Thiel company to establish vast databases of personal information, and develop new capabilities for searching, tracking, and profiling. EPIC is seeking the ICE contracts with Palantir, as well as training materials, reports, analysis, and other documents. The ICE Investigative Case Management System and the FALCON system now connect personal data across federal government, oftentimes in violation of the federal Privacy Act. The Intercept reported that FALCON "will eventually give agents access to more than 4 billion 'individual data records.'" In FOIA lawsuit EPIC v. CBP, EPIC uncovered Planter's role in Analytical Framework for Intelligence, a program that assigns "risk assessment" scores to travelers. EPIC continues to advocate for greater transparency in computer-based decision making.
  • EPIC to Congress: Ask ICE About FOIA Compliance + (Jun. 12, 2017)
    EPIC has sent a statement to the House Appropriations Committee in advance of a budget hearing for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol. EPIC urged the Committee to ask whether ICE is complying with FOIA "when it receives requests for immigration data." EPIC and a coalition recently sent a letter to DHS Secretary Kelly calling on ICE to "fully disclose information on immigration enforcement cooperation between federal and non-federal law enforcement agencies." EPIC also said the Committee should ensure that CBP, which is now deploying drones, will comply with state laws and a 2015 Presidential Memorandum that limit drone surveillance.


Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) searches mobile devices while carrying out law enforcement activities, potentially subjecting millions to searches inside its claimed enforcement authority 100 miles from the border into the interior. Over the last few years, ICE tested devices made by multiple providers of mobile forensic technology. Contracts between ICE and Cellebrite Mobile Synchronization (“Cellebrite”) in the last 10 years value at over $10.7 million, and from April through July 2018, ICE contracted with Cellebrite for over $1.6 million in “Computer Storage Device Manufacturing.” Cellebrite offers a suite of products in its Universal Forensic Extraction Devices (UFED) line, which allow users to “bypass pattern, password or PIN locks,” decrypt, extract, and analyze “live, hidden and even deleted data from smartphones, feature phones, tablets, players, GPS devices, SIM cards, smart watches, mass storage devices, drones and more.” These tools include Cellebrite’s UFED Cloud Analyzer, which can extract private information - even without assistance from the owner - from users cloud-based accounts, such as Facebook, Gmail, iCloud, Dropbox, and WhatsApp.

United States Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”) also conducts cell phone searches. Border agents inspected 30,200 devices in FY 2017, increasing of nearly 60 percent from 2016.

Little is known about ICE’s use of mobile forensics technology, including the types of data searchable, the frequency of searches, or the procedures in place to determine whether or how a search should be conducted.

EPIC's Interest

There are significant privacy and civil liberties implications of the federal government’s use of mobile forensic software at the border and in the interior. Mobile forensic technology has the ability to access and analyze the vast amounts of data that are kept on mobile devices. Although millions of dollars in government funds have been spent by ICE to obtain this technology, the substance of the contracts, the training required to access the technology, policies and procedures regulating its use, and privacy and civil liberties assessments have not been released to the public. With the use of this technology by other border control agencies dramatically increasing, the public has a right to know what data is accessible, as well as, how and to what extent it is protected.

FOIA Documents

Document Production

Legal Documents

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 18-797)

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