A report published by the Surveillance Resistance Lab (formerly the Surveillance, Tech and Immigration Policing Project), the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE), LittleSis, and MediaJustice
Our report, “DHS Open for Business: How Tech Corporations Bring the War on Terror to our Neighborhoods,” investigates how DHS funding and corporations drive demand for “homeland security,” expanding militarized policing in our communities. Through our research, we 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.
In the last twenty years, DHS has devastated communities through surveillance, police militarization, and deportation; these harms make clear to us that “homeland security” doesn’t make us safer, but it does make corporations richer. This report provides organizers and policymakers an understanding of the role that corporations play in shaping “homeland security” policy, adding evidence to growing calls for action to shut off “counterterrorism” funding pipelines that result in more contracts for corporations and bring militarized policing into our neighborhoods.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the George W. Bush administration launched the global “War on Terror,” capitalizing on public fears and calls for retaliation to justify military intervention and Islamophobic violence across the world. This war demonized and targeted Muslims, both abroad and in the United States. In 2002, the administration founded the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), forcibly reframing federal immigration services, emergency response, and data analysis under a mission to “secure the homeland.” This reorganization codified the false link between immigration and terrorism. Instead of making people safe, DHS and its corporate partners used “counterterrorism” to expand policing and surveillance in neighborhoods across the country, targeting immigrant and Muslim communities and intensifying the War on Terror at our doorsteps.
Since its founding, DHS has relied on a state of “emergency” to carry out its operations. Twenty years later, this state of “emergency” has not ended and immigration policing, “national security,” and surveillance have become big business.
Our report investigates how DHS funding and corporations drive demand for “homeland security,” expanding militarized policing in our communities. Through our research, we 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.
Specifically, this report presents data on how DHS funneled billions in grant funding to our cities through programs like the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI). We found that DHS and local policing agencies use this “counterterrorism” grant program to expand surveillance, supercharge militarized police departments, and funnel money right back to the same corporations that advocate for this funding. We focus our research findings on four cities—Los Angeles, Boston, New York City, and Chicago—documenting how UASI grants intensify local policing and benefit corporations. We spotlight data fusion centers—institutions that enable interagency information sharing and are heavily funded by UASI—as an example of how industry and government collaborate to build systems that criminalize Muslim, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and immigrant communities in our neighborhoods.
The DHS annual budget ballooned from $19.5 billion in 2002 to almost $100 billion in 2023, channeling much of these funds into corporate pockets. Our research investigates the role of corporations in creating demand for “homeland security” technology and DHS, from even before 9/11 to today. Our research found that corporations including Microsoft, LexisNexis, and Motorola Solutions, which market themselves as working for the public good, collectively make billions in revenue through DHS and government contracts for policing and surveillance—including through contracts and programs funded by UASI. We tell the story of how tech corporations fund and collaborate with law enforcement associations and think tanks, aggressively supporting the expansion of the “homeland security” machine through DHS grant funding and data fusion centers. Flush with public funds funneled through DHS, corporations help create the booming industry of policing and mass surveillance in our communities.
In the last twenty years, DHS has devastated our communities through surveillance, police militarization, and deportation; these harms make clear to us that “homeland security” doesn’t make us safer, but it does make corporations richer. This report provides organizers and policymakers an understanding of the role that corporations play in shaping “homeland security” policy, adding evidence to growing calls for action to shut off “counterterrorism” funding pipelines that result in more contracts for corporations and bring militarized policing into our neighborhoods.
- Tech corporations like Microsoft, LexisNexis, and Motorola Solutions drove DHS demand for “homeland security” technologies in the aftermath of 9/11, setting up a revenue stream for their products that continues to today.
Building on decades of research on the role of corporations in the War on Terror, our analysis found that in the wake of 9/11 tech corporations like Microsoft—who had recently seen their revenues plummet when the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s—positioned themselves as key partners to the government, capturing new revenue streams. Corporations helped develop “homeland security” infrastructure, like data sharing systems, and secured the first contracts with DHS for software technology. Companies like LexisNexis pushed the federal government for counterterrorism technologies, through lobbying and research advertising their products, and built new arms of their business to meet the demand they were helping construct. Motorola Solutions lobbied for increased DHS funding for its “communications interoperability” technology. Through relentless lobbying and a revolving door, these same corporations then received millions in contracts from DHS in subsequent decades.
- DHS “counterterrorism” grant funding inflates the bloated budgets of local law enforcement agencies, expanding the police and deportation state in our neighborhoods in the name of “emergency” response. Specifically, the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), a DHS grant funding program, helps increase profits of surveillance corporations that, in turn, advocate for its continuation.
Through an analysis of UASI funding in Los Angeles, Boston, New York City, and Chicago, we found that cities spend millions of UASI dollars on contracts with surveillance corporations like ShotSpotter, Motorola Solutions, and Palantir. UASI is a 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. UASI provides $615 million annually to local and state agencies for “counterterrorism” activities, which funds massive purchases of surveillance technology and amplifies policing. The program is managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and ties federal money for disaster relief—which cities desperately need for hospitals, fire departments, and alert systems—to policing and surveillance systems. This has given corporations a virtually guaranteed, ever-expanding funding stream.
See Appendix A for examples of corporations that rely on UASI funding to increase their revenues for policing and surveillance technologies like gunshot detection, Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs), social media and data analysis, and data sharing networks.
- UASI grants fund fusion centers, which operate as black boxes of public-private data collection and sharing across the country. Some of the same corporations that sell surveillance technology drove the development of fusion centers and contributed to DHS’s reliance on consumer data collection and information sharing.
Our research exposes the role that corporations played in establishing fusion centers in the early 2000s, and demonstrates how UASI funding and corporate influence helps sustain fusion centers today. In the 2000s, corporations like Microsoft pushed for fusion centers as a necessary “counterterrorism” response, and built their infrastructure with government agencies, ensuring a continued reliance on their products. Fueled by corporate interests, fusion centers have become the center of the data broker economy. The centers rely on consumer databases run by Experian, LexisNexis, and its subsidiary, Accurint.
Almost two decades of research shows that data fusion centers enhance racialized policing, mass surveillance, government spying on social movements, targeting of Muslims, and immigration detention and deportation. Between corporate lobbying and public-private partnerships, the fusion center network has boomed: there are at least 80 fusion centers across the US and its territories today.
- Corporations sponsor and fund law enforcement associations and think tanks that drive the “counterterrorism” profit cycle by bringing industry and government officials together to shape policy. These associations advocate for more funding for fusion centers and homeland security grants.
Industry-funded law enforcement associations and think tanks have played a critical role in establishing “homeland security” policy rooted in surveillance and militarized policing. Professional associations and think tanks—like the National Fusion Center Association, the National Homeland Security Association, the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police—host annual conferences where they bring together government and law enforcement officials and corporate partners to shape security “solutions,” and provide a venue for corporations to market their security products. These same law enforcement associations, bolstered by corporations, then advocate for more “counterterrorism” grant funding.
These associations have industry ties, from their funders to their executive board members, who drive their priorities when lobbying for “homeland security” funding. These industry-funded associations give corporations legitimacy and an outsized level of influence as active participants in shaping “homeland security” policies that benefit their businesses.
Grassroots organizations like Muslim Justice League and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition have long been organizing against the “homeland security” policing machine because of the violence it inflicts on our communities. Building on the report findings and their years of advocacy, we call for immediate action to address the harms of the “counterterrorism” profit cycle.
See the Conclusion of the report for an expanded list of recommendations.
Local & State Action
- To promote true community safety, city and state officials should reject Urban Area Security Initiative funding and instead invest in public services like education, housing, and healthcare.
- To protect their residents, city and state officials should divest all funding from fusion centers and other surveillance networks in local and state budgets and instead invest those funds in public services.
- 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.
- Congress and federal agencies should limit and regulate corporate data sharing and ensure that “homeland security” and “policing” exceptions are no longer used as loopholes for corporations to profit from mass data collection.