A secretive cell phone app is reportedly being designed to aid illegal immigration into the U.S.
Known as “Bienvenidos,” the Spanish word for “Welcome,” the app purports to help navigate the treacherous U.S.-Mexico border by alerting users to a range of obstacles and threats.
The anonymous creators of Bienvenidos attempted to pitch their app this month to numerous media outlets before suddenly reversing their announcement. A YouTube video explaining the technology was inexplicably deleted while the Bienvenidos website became password-protected.
“All content has been taken down and currently unavailable,” a message to reporters said Wednesday. “Apologies for the confusion, but we’re holding off on our announcement after all for the time being.”
According to Motherboard’s Brian Anderson, one of the journalists initially contacted by the Bienvenidos team, the technology has been heralded as “the world’s first community-based navigation app for migration.”
“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 said in the now-deleted video.
In an email to Anderson, a representative for the app described the project as a tool to facilitate a simpler and safer journey into the U.S.
“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,” the representative wrote.
The app will reportedly inform travelers of the best path into the U.S. by indicating objects such as fences, cameras and U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Other features will allegedly allow users to “outsmart any border wall” by providing information on “vulnerabilities and weak spots” as well as “tunneling locations.”
Despite assurances from Bienvenidos’ creators though, many remain skeptical as to whether the app is genuine.
“But who’s to say Bienvenidos isn’t rather a trolling operation, or a stunt of some kind? Maybe it’s an art project?,” writes Anderson, who was denied a copy of the app.
Aside from openly aiding users in breaking numerous U.S. laws, the app, if legitimate, has also been called into question for its potential security issues.
Bienvenidos claims its product has been “secured from the ground up” with “robust algorithms” and strong encryption.
“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 representative told Anderson. “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.”
Several have stated however that U.S. Border Patrol agents or local militia groups could obtain the app as well to thwart illegal immigration.
The creators say Bienvenidos will block users with U.S. government-issued emails and put approved addresses through a “preliminary review process.”
Other security mechanisms have allegedly been put in place as well to block the U.S. government from using the app.
“[E]ven if an ICE or CBP agent were to sign up,” the representative said, “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.”
It’s also been noted that current illegal immigration routes into the U.S. are heavily controlled by Mexican cartels. Members who smuggle humans and drugs across the border are known to leave cell phones behind for the security risks they pose – making real-world use of Bienvenidos seem even more unlikely.
While the legitimacy of Bienvenidos remains uncertain, the creators say plans are already in the works to bring their technology to France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain and the U.K.