USA: Palantir is allegedly enabling ICE’s human rights violations against migrants & asylum seekers; incl. company response

In recent years, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) has deported a record number of people from the United States, detained people in conditions the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called "appalling", and separated children from their families.

Mijente, other human rights groups, and some investors have stated that through its multi-million dollar contracts with the US government, Palantir Technologies has enabled ICE to carry out its activities, including surveillance, mass raids, detentions, as well as de facto family separations and deportations. They assert that Palantir’s products and services significantly enhance the capacity of ICE to identify, detain and deport individuals and families, increasing the number of people subjected to human rights harms by ICE. Mijente is calling on Palantir to cancel its contracts with ICE.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Palantir to respond to these allegations. Palantir's response and a rejoinder from Mijente are available below.

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Article
4 March 2020

Commentary: When technology facilitates ICE raids that violate rights, who is responsible?

Author: Jacinta González, OpenGlobalRights

On August 7, 2019, 680 undocumented immigrants across Mississippi were arrested in mass raids in food processing plants conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Hundreds of families were immediately separated... Palantir, a Silicon Valley company that holds two contracts with ICE, was complicit in these raids... Without tech like Palantir’s, ICE agents would likely arrest, detain, prosecute, and deport far fewer people than they do today. Palantir’s software is used by ICE agents to amass data on individuals who are thereby more easily arrested and separated from their families, detained in inhumane conditions, deported outright, or some combination of all three. Palantir’s software is, therefore, implicated in these human rights violations... Palantir’s technology has been used in targeted border operations that led to family separation and detention, as well as the lengthy detention of children in ICE custody.

... Palantir’s software may also allow cities to skirt “sanctuary city” laws, which forbid local police departments from cooperating with federal immigration agents. Skirting these laws could allow ICE agents to know when immigrants leave jails, for instance, so they can wait outside and arrest them... Accountability will come when Palantir ceases participation in policies that violate human rights, and Palantir will only do so when calls against its complicity—from both inside and outside the company—are overwhelming. We call on others to join us and demand the company cancel its contracts.

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Article
2 March 2020

Human rights risk briefing: Palantir's exposure to human rights risks & engagement guidance for investors

Author: Investor Alliance for Human Rights

As a developer of big data software with multiple government contracts related to immigrant detention and law enforcement, Palantir is therefore highly exposed to a range of human rights risks... Palantir has received over $200 million in contracts to design and run two software systems for ICE... Both contracts are with HSI, the division of ICE responsible for workplace raids... According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the practice of separating children from their families, as enforced by ICE, constitutes “arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child.”

... Palantir’s products and services significantly enhance the capacity of ICE to identify, detain and deport individuals and families, which, in turn, increases the number of people who have been subject to human rights harms perpetrated by ICE... A review of publicly available information indicates that Palantir has not taken meaningful steps to respect human rights and mitigate the harms associated with use of its products and services by ICE... We encourage investors with holdings in Palantir or in private equity firms with investments in Palantir to consider:

  • Review[ing] holdings to identify exposure to directly owned shares of Palantir or shares in publicly traded firms with holdings in Palantir
  • Engag[ing] Palantir or encourage intermediaries with holdings in Palantir to engage the company to assess the company’s policies and risk management systems
  • Exercis[ing] leverage... to call on Palantir to prevent, mitigate, and account for adverse impacts

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NGO rejoinder
13 February 2020

Mijente rejoinder to Palantir's response

Author: Mijente

Palantir's latest response is part of a long pattern of factual inaccuracies and distortions that come from the company... Palantir claims that workplace raids “constitute a limited portion of HSI’s total responsibilities.” This is outrageously misleading, attempting to minimize the importance of HSI’s deportation raids... HSI agents spearhead workplace raids throughout the country... involv[ing] the arrest and detention of thousands of people...Those arrested by HSI agents in these raids are often detained for indefinite periods of time, languishing in detention centers... with conditions that... have regularly been found to violate human rights.

... Palantir, in its defense, seeks to separate itself from detention center abuses by stating it “plays no role in supporting detention facilities management within any federal departments or agencies.” This is besides the point. Palantir’s software funnels people into immigrant detention by enabling arrests through workplace raids. Whether it directly manages these facilities or not is immaterial... Further, as Palantir knows very well, the company’s software is widely available to anyone within ICE, making their distinction between HSI and ERO even more laughable... What is incontrovertible is that Palantir’s software was used in operations that targeted the family members of children who crossed the border alone and that, in enabling such operations, the company played a role in the continued separation of such families... Palantir’s work is integral to ICE’s operations and, insofar as those operations routinely involve the violation of human rights, therefore implicated in immoral and possibly illegal acts.

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Article
23 January 2020

Palantir CEO Alex Karp defends his company’s relationship with government agencies

Author: William Feuer, CNBC

″​The core mission of our company always was to make the West, especially America, the strongest in the world, the strongest it’s ever been, for the sake of global peace and prosperity, and we feel like this year we really showed what that would mean,” Karp said in an interview... Since 2014, Palantir has worked with ICE to identify undocumented immigrants, prompting some employee protests.

... Business Insider reported that Palantir is working on Project Maven, the Department of Defense program that Google dropped in March following employee backlash. “If this were true, I’d be very proud,” Karp said about the reports, but didn’t confirm Palantir was working on the project... “It’s commonly known that our software is used in an operational context at war,” Karp said. “Do you really think a war fighter is going to trust a software company that pulls the plug because something becomes controversial with their life? Currently, when you’re a war fighter your life depends on your software.”

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Company response
10 January 2020

Response from Palantir

Author: Palantir Technologies

Allegations of Palantir’s involvement in human rights abuses as suggested by these materials are... fatally compromised by a number of egregious factual misrepresentations, conflations, and distortions... Palantir provides software tools to support data integration, responsible management, and analysis of information sources to which our customers have existing access. We do not provide surveillance or collection tools, we are not a “data mining” company, we are not a data retailer or data broker, and we don’t carry out independent analysis or develop work product on our customers’ behalf... ICE is an umbrella agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and consists of multiple sub-directorates. The sole sub-directorate with whom Palantir works is Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the principal investigative component for DHS at large.

... The recurring claim that Palantir plays an active and sizable role in facilitating human rights abuses hinges in no small part on assertions of ICE’s role in carrying out immigration detentions, deportations, “zero tolerance,” and “family separations.” These claims are, however, repeatedly made without any attempt to situate those various actions within their appropriate federal enforcement divisions... “Zero tolerance” and “Family separation” are specific terms that refer to Border Patrol associated operations. Border Patrol falls within the remit of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a distinct DHS agency with whom Palantir has no contracts or formal relationships under the current administration.

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Article
22 November 2019

Activist investors to pressure privately held Palantir on human rights

Author: Joseph Menn, Reuters

The Investor Alliance for Human Rights, which claims more than 150 institutional members representing $4 trillion in managed assets, faults Palantir for contracts with government agencies including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement... “Through its multimillion-dollar U.S. government contracts, Palantir has played a mission critical role in enabling ICE to carry out its activities,” the group said in a presentation provided to Reuters in advance of its announcement. “The company is failing to fulfill its human rights responsibilities.” 

Palantir said the report was misleading. “We always welcome an honest and open dialogue when it comes to complex societal issues, so it is disappointing to see a one-sided view,” said Courtney Bowman, Palantir’s director of privacy and civil liberties engineering... Though Palantir itself is private, the group says investors include such publicly traded entities as BlackRock, Allianz and Alger... “The relative impunity of private companies heightens the risks of human rights impacts, increasing the need for private equity investors to push those companies through other means to respect human rights,” said alliance Director Paloma Munoz Quick.        

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