Saturday, January 27, 2018

The smart phone App offering the navigation of border crossing perils crossing into the U.S.

Chivis Martinez for Borderland Beat republished from Motherboard By Brian Anderson

Note from Chivis: A guidance app for illegal migration and drug trafficking? Federal Government is well aware of this device and ICE is tracking its license.

“Imagine Waze, Google’s free GPS-based traffic and navigation app, only for transiting the borderlands undetected and in one piece…”

The Mexican Border-Crossing App That Suddenly Disappeared

On Monday, while a stopgap spending measure was being approved in the Senate as part of a new February deadline for immigration reform, a curious teaser video appeared online.

“What if there was a smarter way that gave people the power to freely enter and reenter the United States with just a few taps of their smartphone?” a narrator asked.

What if?

The slick 72-second spot had largely slipped under the radar, with a mere 59 views at the time it was
abruptly taken offline Wednesday evening. That’s something of an irony, considering it’s for a mobile app we’re told is for migrants hoping to avoid immigration authorities while crossing the Mexico-US boundary on foot, including potential obstacles.

It’s called Bienvenidos (“Welcome”) and it’s billed as “the world’s first community-based navigation app for migration.” Motherboard first learned of the app in a cold email pitch we received on Monday from “The Bienvenidos Team” (it’s unclear how many others might have gotten the same formulaic release). The project’s website, Bienvenidosapp.com, claimed the app offers undocumented migrants and individuals a streamlined means of navigating the perils of border crossing, which so often involves days-long treks over harsh terrain in extreme weather. Imagine Waze, Google’s free GPS-based traffic and navigation app, only for transiting the borderlands undetected and in one piece.

But in a hot-button climate around the politics of borders and people moving between them, can one be so sure? Is Bienvenidos, in fact, real?

“Yes, Bienvenidos is real and currently in development,” an individual speaking on behalf of the project told Motherboard over email. “Whether it’s Dreamers or DACA recipients being deported by force, or people attempting to enter the United States for the first time, Bienvenidos attempts to make border crossing simpler, safer, and faster, improving the quality of everyone’s journey,” said the rep, who asked to remain anonymous “given the highly sensitive subject matter that our app engages in.”

The pitch is almost deceptively simple: just punch in your location and “get going” with real-time information on optimal routes for jumping the international boundary. Additionally, users will receive live notifications on the whereabouts of US Border Patrol agents stationed over the high-tech dragnet that now defines one of the most expensive borders in the world, where a constellation of ground sensors, hidden cameras, and spy drones feeds into an expanding borderland-industrial complex.

Bienvenidos will also enable users to “outsmart any border wall” with tips about “vulnerabilities and weak spots” in existing fencing and barricades, and to “share tunneling locations and conditions” and drop pins for other crossers along the way.

If Bienvenidos falls into this tradition of border art—and we can’t confidently say it doesn’t—perhaps it could be seen as part commentary on "the wall,” part indictment of a startup culture that exploits minorities while simultaneously cooperating with government requests for user data.
But if not? If Bienvenidos is, as we’re told it is, a bonafide app? Then it’s a bad idea.

“I don't see the appeal,” Robert Bunker, an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University whose work regularly focuses on Mexico-US borderland issues, told me over email. “So, people crossing the border are going to crowd share their info like car drivers with Google Maps?”

Say Bienvenidos is, truly, an app created with only the best intentions. By offering something other than material aid like food and water, as a volunteer with a migrant rights group in Arizona was recently arrested for, the app is instead facilitating the potential breaking of multiple current US laws, namely illegal border crossings, Bunker said. One also has to wonder whether such a location-based service, in the cat-and-mouse chase between human smuggling and efforts to combat undocumented border crossing, is even something migrants and other crossers, people who are already inclined to draw as little or any unwanted attention to themselves, would willingly sign up for. That’s assuming the forces out against them could just as easily get on Bienvenidos too.

To this point, we asked Bienvenidos how people who use the app will be protected, if users should be concerned about their cover potentially being blown, and where and how personal information and location data will be collected and stored. The company stressed that security is “clearly paramount” if it is to succeed in making a reliable app, but was vague on specifics.

“Everything has been secured from the ground up using robust algorithms and API encryption, in addition to database encryption and encrypted connections with a TLS,” the rep said. “Meaning that we keep all data private while in transit.”

“Additionally, we use a federated database system, which spreads resources across diverse servers that are geographically decentralized, so they’re not all in one place, keeping key resources from users, with additional encryption,” the rep added. “Lastly, user data is secured on a file-by-file basis, providing at-rest data with encryption so that it cannot be interpreted if intercepted.”

On the front end, we’re told, “anyone will be able to download Bienvenidos,” although in order to register over email and then actually utilize the app prospective users will need to clear a “preliminary review process.” The rep claimed anyone trying to sign up for Bienvenidos using a US government-issued email address, including CBP or ICE agents, wouldn’t have access. The company did not respond to follow up questions about what the “preliminary review process” entails and where users get the app once they are approved.

Beyond that, there will be additional safeguards built into the app to “prevent or actively disable” American officials from using it, according to the rep, who told us the app’s functionality hinges on specific movement signatures and “limited engagements.” In this way, it mirrors the mechanics of crossing the border, a “migratory” nature keyed to the app’s proprietary algorithm.

“Aberrant use of the app, including overly extended usage or abnormal movement patterns, are red flags and clear indicators of bad actors, which will prevent usage,” the rep said. “In other words, even if an ICE or CBP agent were to sign up, their starting location and movement style while using the app would be so distinctly different than someone attempting to cross the border that it would trigger an immediate security measure to shutdown their account and prevent usage.”

“The humanitarian intent of the app and its application in the real world—the use for which they are intending it—is likely not going to play out very well,” Bunker said. “The thought that individuals and families that want to cross the border will go through a preliminary review process with the app developers, as part of the ‘front-end user experience’ is, in my mind, a Silicon Valley fantasy that seems based on upper middle class millennials.”

He said that’s because small groups of individuals or families simply don’t cross from Mexico to the US, over vast tracts of Southwestern desert, on their own or under the watch of independent foot guides, or coyotes. Or at least not like they did back in the day, according to Bunker. It all comes down to the cartels: Mexican organized crime gangs have pulled this illicit market out from under the mom-and-pop operations that formerly controlled border crossings, meaning people who have paid to be smuggled into the US are now often forced to double as drug mules, carrying backpacks full of narcotics. It’s hard to see fertile ground for a robust, independent user pool for an app like Bienvenidos in an environment like the one that currently exists on the border.

“If used by those actually doing the [drug] transport, it would only benefit cartel and gang members involved in human smuggling,” Bunker said. “I have real trouble seeing them actually signing up for this app, as that would make no sense.”

That’s especially true in a liminal place where you just don’t see many smartphones. As we’ve previously reported, most migrants and smugglers attempting to cross the border carry disposable “burner” phones, a ubiquitous pay-as-you-go mobile tech that is an essential tool of border crossings today. Still others don’t use cell phones, period, for fear of inadvertently beaming their location to authorities patrolling the US side. When high-tech tops low-tech, go no tech, basically.

This is something I’ve heard firsthand while reporting in and around the sister cities of Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, a major port-of-entry into the US, a little south of Tucson. Extended interviews with a Sinaloa cartel plaza boss and one of his coyotes gave off a keen sense of a fixation smugglers share with migrants over leaving behind electronic footprints. The coyote, a twentysomething local who I’ll call Juan, claimed at the time that he was crossing 15 to 20 migrants into the US each week, and told me neither he nor the individuals he guides keep phones on them during runs. Juan added that he and his bosses will sometimes confiscate and turn off the phones of migrants ahead of time.

“People are very suspicious here,” Juan said. “They don’t use cell phones.”

As this story was about to go to press Wednesday evening Bienvenidos sent out an update.

“All content has been taken down and currently unavailable,” it said. “Apologies for the confusion, but we're holding off on our announcement after all for the time being.”

With additional reporting by Jason Koebler.

35 comments:

  1. They gonna sell that app for millions next Zuckerberg

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  2. Shut it down! Digital counter-measures should be able to crash the system.

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  3. 30 billion dollars for the "wall" in an escrow fund in exchange for help for the DACA recipients and some other dreamers totaling 1.8 million beneficiaries...about $15 000.00 per DACA recipient, 'with a path to citizenship in about 10 years...
    i say NOT ONE CENT FOR THE WALL, AND return for the DACAs and dreamers ASAP, bienvenidos, hoy o manana, y siempre...

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  4. Unreal!You got to be kidding?And free at that!This sounds like it might be some government agency.Even if it did work and you could trust it all the Cartels could round up migrants that tried to do it solo without them.Extortion for the taking!It 's just like the drug dealers that think the Blackberry phone can't be monitored.Yeah right (sarcasm).I don't know for sure but I have the sneaking suspicion that the Gov knows more about us than we know about ourselves and that technology is a title further along than the Feds are letting on.

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  5. Build the Wall! :)

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    1. We will go over and under it like always

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    2. Build more tunnels!!

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    3. Build the wall its too late thank you Ronald Reagan

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    4. The wall will be the biggest waste of $23 billion. People who want the wall don’t understand what will happen to those US and Mexico citizens who will have their land seized by the government. There will be several dozen lawsuits that will block the construction if it actually happens. Odds are it won’t. WASTE OF TIME AND RESOURCES.

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  6. Do u really think we need an app? Mexico is a no travel zone. Period.

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    1. Wtf? Did you completely miss the intended audience of this app? It’s for Mexicans coming to the US dingus!

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    2. I would say people coming to the US not just Mexicans....

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  7. Considering trumps just been granted billions for border security and digital surveillance I'd be pretty convinced its a trap. Maybe I'm paranoid but they've only just been granted the cash to track license plates (everyone's not just the criminals). It feels too much of a coincidence to me.

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  8. We do not need a wall. Just put employers in jail for 30 days for first offence. That would change the system. It would force the business community to put pressure on the government to make folks U.S. citizens. Another idea is to bring back the Bracero program, which, by the way, the majority of Latino politicians are against, for good reasons. Either way it would probably double the cost of labor; pensions, medical. Overtime, ect... We all know this will never happen.

    This why 85% of Latino residential construction workers in Silicon Valley are undocumented. And the companies like General Moters have opened plants in places like Saltillo Mexico, where they pay $2000 pesos ($120) a week. This one of the ways the rich have destroyed the middle class..

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  9. We do not need a wall. Just put employers in jail for 30 days for first offence. That would change the system. It would force the business community to put pressure on the government to make folks U.S. citizens. Another idea is to bring back the Bracero program, which, by the way, the majority of Latino politicians are against, for good reasons. Either way it would probably double the cost of labor; pensions, medical. Overtime, ect... We all know this will never happen.

    This why 85% of Latino residential construction workers in Silicon Valley are undocumented. And the companies like General Moters have opened plants in places like Saltillo Mexico, where they pay $2000 pesos ($120) a week. This one of the ways the rich have destroyed the middle class..

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  10. Forum members saying Betito/Betillo was killed in Reynosa. Meny says it was just a 35 of Betito that was killed. This makes sense because the only thing in the photo of the supposedly dead Betito that looked like the real Betito was a chest tattoo. Maybe Betito is making his 35s get matching chest tatts to confuse the contras.

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  11. Another of a million reasons to build a wall. Or worse.

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  12. Viva Mexico lol. No la van a seguir pelando.

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    Replies
    1. We'll build the wall if you stop using drugs. Deal? Exactly..

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    2. We'll take the drugs, just keep the indigenous peoples over there. We have big drug dealers here in the US too. Except we don't behead children, hand people from bridges, chainsaw, dynamite children, etc, etc,etc. We're building a wall to keep moral less scums out. And instead of worrying about the border, why don't u work on fixing ur corrupt discusting 3rd world country. Then we wouldn't need a wall. Drugs are only a small part of the need for a wall. It's the wreck less mentality of the people my friend.

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    3. 6:36 You sure as hell aint a politician and I totally disagree . "We'll take the drugs" sounds like a drug induced statement . Drugs is a huge portion of the problem . There are people that are in this country illegally that have a contempt for the USA and there are those that are totally opposite . Aint it weird the way a persons experience with a couple people influence their whole opinion with the whole group . I know a old guy that had a thing for a young Cambodian woman . Completely one sided . Anyway when he would talk about her he would say they are this way or that way. This one girl is the only person he knew from Cambodia . He talked about how clean "they" are ect and so on . DAKA kids , lots of them around . In the schools there have been many that rufuse to stand for the pledge . Its been going on for decades where I am from . For a person in their situation to commit to refusing to show respect for the others while they preform this ceremony shouldn't be tolerated . Many of them come from families that are involved in drug dealing ect . Then there are other DAKA's in the same room that stand and pledge . Usually higher intelligence and moral background . I can think of one in particular . This person served a tour in Iraq , graduated college and now has a very high security position in the us government .
      I think after years of being here and growing up from a young age in their local communities we should be able to sort them out. I have no problem with some DAKA kids being citizens . There are many that are adequate and many that are exceptional . Not all

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    4. Chivis you been busy .OK I wrote DACA wrong . That will be fodder for the truly intellectual .

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  13. Obously some white privilege kids came up with this stupid idea. Nosotros que somos de Frontera sabemos que los polleros y las Clicas que controlan no los van a dejar usar esas mamadas. Cool idea on paper but shitty idea for execution. The minute they turn that phone on you know CBP will get a ping on the signal. I doubt any DTO or HSG will allow for anybody to go onto yonder without paying cash or ass.

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    1. No falta que los bajadores lleguen a bañar se a toda madre con ellos. - Sol Prendido

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  14. To bad the App doesn't point you the the location of corrupt Mexican Politicians.

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  15. Chivis. Either my comments aren't going through or you just don't think much of my opinion . Anyway I don't hate you for it . Yet ....

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    1. 8:41 hate me please, my comments get through and they get posted all the time, because Chivis is my girlfriend and she is always trying to make me believe by proving it,
      Chiva, quén te quere beibi

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    2. Good Morning 7:39!
      Nos vemos,
      Chivis

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    3. Hey pirate treasury, i'd tell you every day, muah!

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  16. What I think is going on with this app is obviously one of the cartels is behind this probally Sinaloa getting all high tech it sure would benefit them to make the border patrol and dea believe that they are using this app and that they are using these routes. If they can get the us govt to bite on this and believe it the minute that happens and they think that ..well then it’s going to be hacked and if the cartel can get the border patrol and dea to target these bullshit locations that they think they are using they can up their percentage’s substantially by then moving to routes that are completely different from where the apps routes are showing with more and more expensive loads meaning not pot this will save them millions and will be a success that’s all this is is a sham to use up agents on the ground getting them to go after some bullshit that’s not there..

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    1. I would rather Lear Arab and read the traffic directions posted by ISIS and the Talibans and Al Qaeda in Arabic all over Texas on deserts and caves, General Michael Flynn saw them with his own eyes and I believe him.
      best of all, there is no monthly fee.

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  17. Probably true or atleast makes sense. Who else thinks this could be a possibility?
    Chivis what do you think?

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    Replies
    1. Yes it is possible. Bu not without mass interference. IMO it would be a horrible idea.

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