US police use counterterrorism money to buy spy tech
The report relied on a wealth of public documents and its financial calculations aggregate past research with public data from government websites. The organizations provide a list of recommendations, including a call for cities and states to reject UASI funding and redirect investments to public services such as housing and education. They also advocate that Congress separate emergency aid from security funding and eventually cede the Homeland Security grant program.
FEMA has not yet responded to a request for comment.
“It’s almost like a hidden funding stream that augments local police budgets and also feeds into this web of data abstraction, data collection and analysis, and resale of consumer data,” says Alli. Finn, principal investigator at the Immigrant Defense Project who worked on the report.
Additionally, UASI is designed to tie surveillance funding – under the counterterrorism umbrella – to emergency preparedness programs that are critical for many cities. For example, 37% of New York City’s proposed emergency management budget for 2023 comes from federal funding, almost entirely through UASI. For a local government to be eligible for UASI grants, it must spend at least 30% of its funds (from 2022) on law enforcement activities, according to the report.
There is no free technology
UASI isn’t the only way for police forces to get their hands on federally funded technology. The 1033 program, named after its founding article in the National Defense Authorization Act of 1997, allows surplus military equipment to be transferred to law enforcement groups. Police have used it to acquire more than $7 billion worth of military-grade supplies like tanks, autonomous ground vehicles and firearms.
Some equipment is only tracked for a year after transfer, and the program is controversial due to the effect militarized policing has on communities of color. And another little-known program, called the 1122 program, allows state and local governments to use federal procurement channels that reduce costs by bundling purchase orders and providing access to discounts. The channels are available for “equipment suitable for drug enforcement, homeland security, and emergency response activities,” according to U.S. law.
Once purchased, all non-weapons equipment purchased through 1122 is transferred from MoD ownership to law enforcement. A Women for Weapons Trade Transparency investigative report found that no federally maintained database tracks 1,122 publicly available purchases. Through FOIA requests, the group uncovered $42 million in purchases under the program, including surveillance equipment.
And federal programs aren’t the only way to keep tech off the books.
Many technology vendors offer “free trials” of their systems to police departments, sometimes for years, eliminating the need to enter into a purchase agreement or approve a budget. Controversial facial recognition company Clearview AI has offered free trials to anyone with an email address associated with the government or law enforcement agency as part of its “flood the market” strategy. . Our survey of Minnesota Surveillance Technology found that many other vendors offered similar incentives.
“Secret federal funding channels often allow police to bypass elected officials and the public to purchase technologies that would otherwise never be approved,” says Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. “It gives the police a power that no other type of municipal agency has. Teachers cannot use federal funds to circumvent school boards.