Tech activists protest Palantir's work with ICE

Tech activists protest Palantir's work with ICE
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Tech activists have engaged in a multiday protest of tech software company Palantir's work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) following revelations that the company's products helped facilitate the arrests of over 400 immigrants.

The protests kicked off on Saturday as participants flooded Palantir's software development page — on Github, a source code management platform — with messages calling on the company's workers to "take a principled stand" and "refuse to work on projects that support ICE."

GitHub, which can function as a social network for software developers, allows users to flag software bugs, but protesters used the website to post messages opposing Palantir's relationship with ICE. 

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The digital protest offered a new frontier for the burgeoning tech activist movement, as workers used tools made to improve communication among software developers to spread their message.  

The hundreds of anti-ICE messages were removed within hours on Saturday. 

And on Monday, groups of tech activists stood outside of Palantir's New York City and Washington, D.C., offices, passing out flyers and confronting workers about the company's ties to ICE. 

"Even if you don't work on projects supporting ICE, your company produces software that has directly enabled ICE to deport families," the flyers read. "Ask yourself if the good your project does outweighs the harm caused by these deportations. Talk to your coworkers about whether they're okay with the collaboration between Palantir and ICE."

Documents obtained by immigration groups this month showed Palantir software was used to target and identify the families of unaccompanied children crossing the border in 2017, according to activist organization Mijente.  

Palantir had previously claimed that its $38 million contract with ICE did not aid the agency's work deporting and detaining immigrants, saying it was used to aid ICE's broader criminal enforcement efforts. 

The documents reviewed by Mijente and reported by The Intercept showed Palantir software was used to target the parents of unaccompanied minors crossing the border in a 2017 ICE program described as a precursor to the Trump administration's so-called zero-tolerance policy last summer.

Over 440 immigrants without legal status were targeted as part of operation, leading to 35 criminal arrests, according to The Intercept.

ICE in a statement said the 2017 program was aimed at targeting "human smuggling facilitators," noting that it resulted in 35 criminal arrests and 38 prosecutions accepted on charges including "alien smuggling and re-entry of removed aliens."

“ICE conducted a surge initiative focused on the identification and arrest of individuals involved in illicit human smuggling operations, to include sponsors who have paid criminal organizations to smuggle children into the United States," the agency said.

Palantir did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment. 

"I'm out here today because, as a worker in technology, I am acutely aware of all of the different impacts that tech has on society and among the worst among those is the way that technology is being used to tear apart families and deport people from the United States," protester Shauna Gordon-McKeon, a tech worker who is not affiliated with any company, told The Hill. 

"I just want to see more tech workers talking about the impact their work has and the power that they have to stop it and to change how tech is used," Gordon-McKeon said.

The protest comes amid a wave of tech worker activism that has picked up steam over the past several years. Workers in Silicon Valley and cities across the U.S. have increasingly launched public campaigns to pressure tech giants on issues, including how their products are used and how they partner with law enforcement and the U.S. government. 

Amazon workers last year asked Amazon Web Services to stop hosting Palantir over its contract with ICE, and the company faced enormous pushback following reports that it met with ICE officials to pitch them on buying the tech giant's controversial facial recognition technology. 

Thousands of protesters last year also pushed Salesforce to end its contracts with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) over the administration's policy separating migrant families. 

"Tech workers at other companies have organized all-hands meetings, walkouts, work stoppages, petitions and mass resignations," reads the flyer from Mijente and the Tech Workers Coalition disseminated in front of Palantir offices on Monday. "You can do the same: Tell management that you do not want Palantir involved in contracts that harm immigrants." 

--This report was updated at 12:51 p.m.