Tech by VICE

Why Protesters Want Palantir to #disarmICE

For many, Palantir has been the backbone of ICE’s operations for too long.

by Edward Ongweso Jr
Jul 11 2019, 11:00am

Monday, a coalition of activist groups and tech workers crowded outside Palantir Technologies’ New York office and called on the company to #disarmICE and cut off its technological support of the agency’s raids, deportations, and detentions.

Mijente, the social justice organization that spearheaded Monday's protests, previously published documents detailing how “mission critical” or absolutely necessary Palantir is for ICE to function. The company, which makes software used by governments, law enforcement, and massive corporations for surveillance and mass data analysis purposes, has become a key lifeline for ICE.

A document dump from earlier this year revealed that in 2017, Palantir software allowed ICE to launch an operation that targeted and arrested family members of children who crossed the border, leading to 443 arrests. Mijente also revealed that in 2017, ICE planned to use Palantir technology in what would have been the largest immigration raid in history (Operation Mega) that set a "minimum national arrest quota" of 8,400 people nationwide through ICE’s 24 field offices.

Mijente’s documents make clear that Palantir’s technology has supercharged ICE's operational capabilities. Thanks to Palantir, ICE is able to scan a person’s biometrics (from tattoos to irises) to populate profiles connecting associates or vehicles through “link analysis,” collect fingerprints for an internal case management system (ICM) used to organize raids, and extract data from smartphones even if has been deleted. Mijente’s document dumps also detail how Palantir’s technology was planned to be integrated into Operation Mega, and how after that raid was abandoned the technology was incorporated into subsequent operations.

For the past few years, much of the immigration justice activism targeting Palantir has stemmed from ICE's active contract with Palantir. What started as a $41 million contract to build and maintain ICM from September 2014-17 has been extended each year and now costs more than $51 million, according to government records. Each year since the project was supposed to end in September 2017, the contract has been extended. Each year, activists have tried to push Palantir to cancel the contract or simply let it expire because ICE relies heavily on Palantir’s technology. And each year, Palantir has largely ignored these protests and continued to work with ICE.

In 2017, documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center first revealed details of Palantir's work with ICE and sparked protests over the concern that such a system could be easily be used to create a registry for Trump’s promised Muslim ban. Palantir’s CEO, Alex Karp, promised that not only had the Trump administration not reached out about such a registry, but that Palantir would refuse to build one.

In 2018, as part of a national day of action targeting ICE collaborators, activists with the Tech Workers Coalition (TWC)—a tech employee labor group that frequently works with Mijente—read a letter outside Palantir's Palo Alto office asking for the company and its employees to "choose a side” and either “cancel your contracts with ICE, or be remembered as a company, and individually as people, that abetted human rights abuses condemned around the world." In response to the swell of activism that year, Palantir emailed a statement to the New York Times vaguely implying that its technology was not supporting the deportation and detention of undocumented immigrants. Earlier that year, however, Karp told the New York Times that "we're proud that we're working with the U.S. government."

Palantir did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This year, as awareness has grown of the detention camps and their inhumane conditions, so too have protests focused on immigration enforcement and human rights abuses. After Mijente’s document dump, the TWC kicked off a multi-day protest in May by flooding Palantir's software development page on Github with calls for employees to stop work on projects supporting ICE. That following Monday, the TWC and Mijente stood outside Palantir's New York and D.C. offices, trying to share posters with employees about their company’s work with ICE. Palantir did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

All this culminated with this Monday’s #disarmICE protest, where Mijente and the Tech Workers Coalition brought together a vast network of activists (from Desis Rising Up & Moving, to the AI Now Institute, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Nodubtbol, and many more). On the protest’s Facebook event page, Mijente said they wouldn’t “stand by and let tech giants like Palantir make money off of the trauma and suffering of migrants and asylum seekers."