The International Business Machines Corporation, commonly known as IBM, has been named in a series of reports tied to the TSA’s “randomizer” app. Though many news sources have focused on the cost of the app, few have looked deeper into the relationship between Washington D.C. and IBM’s powerful lobbyists.
Geek.com reported the Department of Homeland Security’s TSA awarded IBM with a $336,413.59 contract for the production of an app that randomly chooses a left or a right arrow. The function is used in U.S. airports, and its goal is to make lines more efficient by randomly choosing which travelers get to skip the extensive security checks.
The information was made available promptly after web developer Kevin Burke filed a Freedom of Information Act request. As a result of the query, Burke received a copy of the contract between IBM and the TSA, which shows the app cost taxpayers at least $336,000 (in a Twitter reply to Burke, Time Magazine’s Partheek Rebala advised that a summary of the total cost tied to the app could be also found online.)
That summary shows that between September of 2014 and August of 2015, IBM was awarded at least seven contracts, all of which were tied to software development. All services and products add up to $1,444,315. According to Geek.com, “It could be IBM supplied all the iPads and training as well as the app itself.” But even then, “the cost of the project is crazy.” After all, the product is just “an app that is [sic] just randomly selects left or right.”
To Chris Pacia, a Bitcoin expert and lead backend developer for OpenBazaar, the cost the TSA paid for the app made no sense. After all, how expensive could an app that acts like a digital a coin flip actually be?
To demonstrate how easy — and cheap — it is for anybody to come up with an app just like TSA’s randomizer, Pacia posted a video on YouTube demonstrating the entire process. Pacia’s app took him less than 10 minutes to develop, according to his video’s description. It cost about $10 worth of labor to build.
Though Pacia demonstrated the TSA’s inefficient budgeting, the underlying cause of these indulgent expenditures can be understood through the agency’s relationship with IBM.
While important details regarding the contracts between the Department of Homeland Security and the company are not listed on the government’s accounting website, the tech giant is no stranger to the establishment’s favoritism game.
According to the Center for Responsible Politics, IBM Corp. spent over $9 million on lobbying efforts between 2014 and 2015 alone. Defense and information technology, the group claims, are some of IBM’s top issues. In many cases, IBM also lobbied for anti-privacy measures.
One of the bills IBM lobbied to pass was H.R. 1731, also known as the National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act of 2015. The law places the information gathered via both the federal government and the private sector in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security. IBM also lobbied for the Cybersecurity Disclosure Act of 2015, a bill turned into law that “trump[s] possibly forthcoming federal regulatory efforts and state privacy laws” and that broadens “powers of network operators to monitor and disclose” online information.
Considering IBM’s apparent lack of respect for privacy — and its efforts to influence government policy, it is unsurprising the multinational corporation is working so closely with the Department of Homeland Security.