Accenture Distorts Reality about Real ID (revised)


In today’s Baltimore Sun (2/14/08), two letters to the editor appear which challenge my Sun column of 2/7/08, “Making Real ID Real.” Hey, I’m glad to see folks reading the column and I enjoy a lively debate But, the letters make misleading claims about an important issue dealing with immigrants and immigration control, so I respond below.

RE: the first letter, Accenture’s PR machine whipped off a quick letter to the editor to suggest my column was “factually inaccurate.” The pr machine’s response manipulates what the column says and is misleading (surprise!).

Here’s everything I wrote about Accenture…

“It is interesting to note who profits from the hype surrounding programs such as Real ID. Security management companies whose lobbyists are former Department of Homeland Security officials have a clear upper hand when it comes to getting contracts and lobbying the government for more outsourcing opportunities.

Such security management leaders as Accenture Ltd., Digimarc Corp., KPMG’s BearingPoint and Unisys have profited from the increasing “securitization” of immigration control and driver’s licenses. In 2004, Accenture received a $10 billion DHS contract for the US-VISIT program, a border control system, and the company is a leading contender for Real ID contracts to privatize state motor vehicle departments.

Accenture and the others have also profited from the “virtual fence” that socially controls U.S.-Mexico border crossers by tracking them long after they cross. And according to Washington Technology, these companies “are tracking opportunities in state motor vehicle IT system upgrades worth about $500 million to $700 million in the next two years.”

This is the Accenture response,

“In his column “Making ‘Real ID’ real” (Opinion • Commentary, Feb. 7), Robert Koulish makes a reference to Accenture that merits correcting.
Mr. Koulish’s claim that “Accenture and the others have also profited from the ‘virtual fence’ that socially controls U.S.-Mexico border crossers by tracking them long after they cross” is factually inaccurate.
Accenture has never been involved with any government program that tracks visitors after they enter the country.
However, by establishing minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards, governments can help reduce counterfeiting and fraud.
This can help make driver’s licenses a more secure and trusted identity credential – an outcome that will benefit all Maryland and U.S. citizens.
Peter Soh Reston, Va. The writer is director of media relations for Accenture.”

Three important points here:

First point: According to Soh, “Mr. Koulish’s claim that Accenture and the others have also profited from the ‘virtual fence’ that socially controls U.S.-Mexico border crossers by tracking them long after they cross” is factually inaccurate.”

So, do they profit? Yes. Big Time. Accenture has had banner years since contracting with DHS. They reported revenues of $19.7 billion in 2007, and according to Wikipedia, “is one of the largest computer services and software companies on the Fortune Global 500 list.”

Second, does the virtual fence socially control US border crossers long after they cross? Yes, conceptually and when operationing. Accenture is integral to the virtual fence, US-Visit and Real ID. These are integrated programs that are intended to be part of a more comprehensive immigration control industrial complex that socially control immigrants and citizens inside this country.

Third, is Accenture involved with any government program that tracks visitors after they enter the country?
Perhaps we can wordsmith over what Accenture is saying here, but I take it to mean that US-VISIT, the virtual fence and Real ID, all of which involves Accenture does not track visitors (tourists? temporary workers? students?), and this is flat out wrong. The linkages among these to-be integrated programs won’t function without tracking capabilities.

Given Accenture’s role, its efforts to deny that it is involved in tracking people are manipulative and misleading. Hey look at it this way. Accenture has everything to do with tracking. I just googled the words ‘accenture’ and ‘tracking’ and came up with 414,000 hits. Seems silly to deny their role.

Any validity at all to Accenture’s response? Only if accenture were to concede their own failure to implement US VISIT (see GAO Rpt 06-318T). Perhaps they have some work to do to be effective trackers and social controllers of immigrants and citizens, but their DHS contracts demand a good faith effort.

Consider that the virtual fence proposes to monitor people as they enter and as they exit. The point is to get to people who fail to exit (visa overstays), to find them, apprehend them and remove or fine them.

Next, Real ID will play an integral role in the virtual fence concept. It will create a national database that registers the immigration status and other personal info of every individual who applies for a drivers’ license. Given DHS Secry. Chertoff, has stated that this information will go to federal immigration authorities, it doesnt take much to assume the data Accenture will gather and control, will be enlisted in efforts to “socially control() U.S.-Mexico border crossers by tracking them long after they cross”

Also consider that Accenture has also been a leading advocate of the use of RFIDS, which by design, tracks and monitors people and products. In the commrcial sector, it does this to help advertisers keep close tabs on the likes and dislikes of consumers. When RFID technology is used to further public policy objectives, like working with the DHS and ICE, the result is the tracking and social control of people in this country. let me know if you can think of any other purpose?

Next, is a letter from Brian Zimmer, president of the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License.

Zimmer says, “In his column “Making ‘Real ID’ real” (Opinion • Commentary, Feb. 7), Robert Koulish ignores the increased personal privacy protections incorporated in the Real ID regulations recently issued by the federal government.”

I believe Zimmer doesn’t take into account existing accounts of these new references to privacy. If he did, he would agree they are superficial and inadequate.

According to Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program, of the final regs., “But the close, issue-by-issue analysis of the regulations we carried out for this scorecard reveals that Real ID’s problems remain unresolved.”

And,

Sophia Cope, staff attorney from the Center for American Progress, similarly says that the final regulations, “fail() to acknowledge that the REAL ID Act seriously threatens privacy and civil liberties on a national scale.”

“If run by a private organization, as is the current commercial driver’s license database, federal privacy and security laws may not apply, nor would the much-touted, though still weak, Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which only regulates how state motor vehicle departments disclose personal data to government agencies and commercial entities.”
Cope continues, “Thus no robust legal framework exists to protect the personal information that would be held in the centralized ID system envisioned by DHS from misuse by government and business. Allegedly, the Department of Transportation and other federal agencies already regularly access the privately managed commercial driver’s license database with virtually no oversight.”

So in closing here, a close analysis of the final regulations and a broader understanding of Real ID make a compelling case that privacy concerns remain a big worry for Real ID.

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