Due in part to a Verge report from last month, a group of tech workers in Silicon Valley has announced that it will hold a demonstration outside the headquarters of Palantir Technologies in Palo Alto next Wednesday to protest the company’s involvement in intelligence systems used by federal immigration authorities. Since Donald Trump’s upset victory in November, Palantir has made headlines both for its close relationship with the incoming Republican administration and its involvement in government data platforms that could be used to support Trump’s planned mass deportations and what he calls “extreme vetting” of immigrants seeking to enter the country.
“We want to make it clear that the overall tech community is watching what Palantir does,” says Jason Prado, a software engineer at Facebook and member of the Tech Workers Coalition, the group organizing the Palantir demonstration. “And we want to hold the tech community overall accountable for the values that we as a community have.”
Ahead of next week’s protest, Prado’s group has created an online campaign to collect petition signatures to press Palantir — a company co-founded by billionaire and Trump transition advisor Peter Thiel — to separate itself from any involvement with mass deportations. The group is also demanding Palantir annouce steps it has or will take to ensure its systems are protected from abuse by federal authorities, and for the company to dismantle the system if disclosable safeguards can’t be put in place.
This week, both Thiel and Palantir’s CEO, Alex Karp, separately pledged that Palantir will not be used to build a Muslim registry — a demand listed by Prado’s group. “We think that’s fantastic,” says Prado, “but we’re also interested in their possible involvement in what we see as mass deportation and we plan to continue pushing on that.”
Last month, I reported for The Verge that Palantir had provided largely-secret assistance to the US Customs and Border Protection agency in administering a complex intelligence platform known as the Analytical Framework for Intelligence, or AFI, which collects and analyzes troves of information on immigrants and other travelers entering, exiting, and moving within the United States.
“When Trump uses the term ‘extreme vetting’, AFI is the black-box system of profiling algorithms that he’s talking about,” Edward Hasbrouck of the Identity Project, a civil liberties initiative that focuses on the rights of travelers, told The Verge in December. “This is what extreme vetting means.”
According to documents obtained through litigation by the Electronic Information Privacy Center, CBP lends out AFI user credentials to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s Enforcement and Removal Office (ERO), the country’s primary deportation force.
Last month, I also reported that Palantir had signed a $34,650,000 in contracts with ICE to help build and maintain a large database and analytics platform called FALCON, which contains employment information, criminal records, immigration history, family connections, as well as home and work addresses. According to Department of Homeland Security oversight documents, FALCON is meant for use by ICE’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations, which pursues serious cross-border crimes such as human trafficking, drug interdiction, and child pornography and is a separate entity from ERO. Tasked with enforcing unverified employment, HSI has conducted some of ICE’s most controversial recent immigration raids on businesses employing undocumented Immigrants — the sort of operations that many immigrant advocates fear will expand under Trump.
Along with its online petition, the Tech Workers Coalition features a pledge for students and alumni of Stanford University — a school where the petition says Thiel’s firm has a major recruiting presence — to “not work for Palantir” and “to continue questioning Palantir's outsized presence and reputation in our community.”
The group says that this is the first protest it has organized without the help of other organizations. Prado says that he expects “dozens” to turnout Wednesday for the protest and says that his group has alerted the Palo Alto Police Department of the planned action. While its members have participated in recent campaigns to call for tech companies to commit to refuse participation with building a Muslim registry, the Tech Workers Coalition says it is singling out Palantir for the firm’s apparently unique status heading into the Trump era.
“[W]hen a company is already directly contracted with immigration authorities to maintain analytics systems and is already profiting from this relationship, the standards for accountability and transparency need to be higher,” says the site. “Palantir is a special case in this regard.”