For every person who enters America, a profile is drawn up and a determination made on their risk to national security. It’s the same for any cargo or packages. And it’s all done using a tool known as the Automated Targeting System (ATS). This decades-old technology helps border staff decide whether or not you or a shipment needs to be pulled aside for further inspection before being allowed into the country.
Run by Customs and Border Protection, it’s been controversial since the mid-2000s, when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pivoted its use from just targeting cargo to tracking people. Though it’s primarily engineered by lesser-known tech contractors, one of the technologies the ATS uses is Google Maps. Through a review of government contract records and a FOIA request response, Forbes has learned that the CBP has spent at least $2 million in the last three years on the Google mapping software to support ATS, which critics say is a secretive, “terrifying,” huge surveillance system, one that draws in personal and location data from a vast number of government and commercial databases to make its risk assessments.
Whilst ATS can help investigators target individuals or packages that have been making suspicious trips to places of interest, such as Syria or Afghanistan, its use on any visitor to America makes it particularly troubling for privacy advocates. And CBP’s use of Google technology could be problematic for a tech giant whose own employees have voiced anger about its work with Trump’s immigration agencies.
“ATS is sort of this terrifying master database of vast quantities of personally identifiable information that’s being funneled in from dozens of different law enforcement and other databases,” said John Davidson, lead counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), who said the use of Google tech in