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Tech by VICE

Activists Explain How Palantir’s Tech Is Used in ICE Raids

Palantir’s technology continues to play a key role in separating families targeted by ICE.

by Edward Ongweso Jr
Oct 15 2019, 12:00pm

Over the past few years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s operations surveilling, detaining, and deporting undocumented immigrants have grown larger in scope and bolder in their disregard for human rights. In August, ICE launched the largest immigration raid in a decade, targeting food processing plants across Mississippi and rounding up about 680 people. For the agency, these operations would be impossible without “mission critical” technology from firms like Palantir. Mijente, a grassroots Latinx and Chicanx activist group, revealed earlier this month that Palantir’s FALCON Tipline, a tool sold to the Homeland Security Investigations division of ICE, was used to plan the raids.

First, Palantir created an Integrated Case Management system for ICE which allows it to store and assign data collected from a vast surveillance network to files on various persons or organizations. FALCON is a series of software tools that also help collect, file, and analyze data for connections, which are then visualized and mapped out; FALCON Tipline, sold by Palantir to ICE, consolidates data from tips to be used for “link analysis” and planning future operations.

Motherboard spoke with Mijente Field Director Jacinta Gonzalez to talk about the revelation, Palantir’s ongoing role in ICE operations, and the overall strategy behind its various campaigns against ICE and its Silicon Valley partners.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

The New York Times recently published two stories that laid out how ICE’s massive data-harvesting uses digital and physical personal data to choose targets, and is soon going to start using DNA to map out family connections. Other stories have highlighted how ICE is able to use facial recognition , public and police records , and cast a large net with all this data. Is Palantir’s technology what makes all this possible?

Yes. All of the data is being connected. One of the things we’re starting to see is that under this administration, workplace raids have drastically increased. Part of that is because there have been more investigations into workplaces and detaining and deporting folks that are undocumented. Palantir would like us to think that that’s not family separation because it’s not like the worst example which is the “zero tolerance” scandal. But what we’re seeing is that all of these workers are also parents—the Mississippi raid happened on the first day of school. Many of these workers that were arrested would be considered “criminals” because they were prosecuted for working without documents.

Palantir has that talking point about supporting “criminal investigations” but what we really know is that these are workers with families, with children, with babies, that are being attacked. There’s the case of Maria, who’s a worker who was picked up. She’s breastfeeding her baby, she has two other children, and she’s still in a detention center in Louisiana because of this technology and because she was picked up in this raid.

Is the timing of these raids intentional or do they simply not care? Is that too speculative?

We don’t have any evidence that they did intentionally did it that day, but what we have seen continuously is a flagrant disregard for people’s rights and safety and an expansion of cruelty. So for example, with Maria’s case, the reason they won’t release her is that they’re disputing whether she’s breastfeeding her baby. They don’t dispute that she has a baby, they don’t dispute that she has children, but they’re saying if you’re not breastfeeding then you don’t deserve to be with them. So who knows if the timing was calculated or not, but I think what we’re seeing is cruelty and disregard for children’s well-being.

Have you been finding that more of these raids are using this technology? Or that Palantir’s technology is already integrated and what has changed over the years are the capabilities afforded by it?

On one side, you see there are more and more companies that are buying and selling people’s data. So the availability of data is increasing literally day by day. The same is happening in terms of ICE agents’ ability to have access to technology—especially technology created by Palantir—that can process all of that data to then deliver it to them to make it easier for them to do their work. That’s been happening at the same time as what the Trump administration has been doing: giving ICE free reign to do whatever they want.

So more data, more technology, more political will for ICE to pursue tactics that terrorize and torture people all give us the scenario that we’re in now.

Is the solution to ban the collection of data or the development of technology for these purposes? Do you target individual companies as they prove to be problematic? Do you target the workers building this technology at various companies? Or is it all of that at once?

It’s all part of the same fight. ICE is an agency whose sole purpose is to surveil, detain, and deport immigrants in this country. Many of us have been saying for a long time that we do not need a police force for that. We can have an immigration system that defends people’s rights, that is about community safety, that does not require a police force to identify, detain, and deport everyone who is here.

Obviously, the bigger fight is about this agency that constantly violates the law, constantly violates human rights, and absolutely has no accountability. So when we see children in cages, when we see workers being raided, when we see community members being terrified to even go to their kid’s soccer games, how do we do everything we can to stop it? So that’s both about demanding different policies from our federal, state and local governments, and about holding private corporations to task in terms of how they’re aiding and abetting this type of behavior. For us, that’s why it's about targeting some of these corporations like Palantir and why we think the workers that work at these companies should be internally organizing to demand justice and to demand that these contracts be cut.

Along with the workers inside the companies, Mijente has also been organizing to disrupt the pipelines that supply Palantir and other companies with recruits from college. Where does that fit in for you with regard to this overall strategy?

What we see is students everywhere are outraged by what ICE is doing and what this immigration system stands for under this administration. These companies depend on recruitment to have new people to come into their companies and bring new ideas to help them grow. For us, it’s been really important to help strategize and co-invest with students who are thinking more critically about where their labor and their work is being used.

Is there any concern about how this technology could also be used to target those same people? Or activists and community members that protect undocumented people?

We still haven’t found a smoking gun between Palantir and retaliation against organizers or community members that are protecting against undocumented family members. But we have seen ICE retaliate more and more against activists and organizers. It’s one of those situations where until it is exposed and brought to light, we don’t have the connection but it is absolutely a grave concern with folks who have been organizing at the border.

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