The LGBTQ tech organization Lesbians Who Tech have removed Palantir from a long list of corporate sponsors of its upcoming New York Leadership Conference, citing public outrage over the company’s complicity in human rights abuses against undocumented immigrants detained and imprisoned by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Members of our community (the LGBTQ community) contacted us with concern around Palantir’s participation with the job fair because of the recent news that the company’s software has been used to aid ICE in effort to gather, store, and search for data on undocumented immigrants, and reportedly playing a role in workplace raids,” Lesbians Who Tech told The Verge on Monday.
“This news around the software in addition to the widely publicized raids, inhumane detention centers, and family separation tactics has created heightened concern for various human rights issues,” the group added. “LGBTQ issues are human rights issues, and we must stand united on these issues that impact marginalized peoples.”
Indeed, the Palo Alto, California-based Palantir currently sells data analysis software to ICE under various contracts, including one with the agency’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division, which carried out workplace raids earlier this month in Mississippi in which dozens of undocumented immigrants were arrested for deportation. There have yet to be any arrests of or charges against employers who knowingly hired undocumented workers. Two children, ages 12 and 14, were left alone for more than a week after their parents were rounded up in the raids.
Following the raids, more than 200 Palantir employees signed a letter to CEO Alex Karp condemning the company’s ICE contracts. Karp has been less than sympathetic toward the plight of migrants, many of whom are held in concentration camps in conditions decried as “appalling” by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who also said that according to several UN human rights bodies, US treatment of migrant children “may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that is prohibited under international law.” Despite all this, in a recent CNBC interview Karp derided companies like Google that have declined ICE contracts, calling their refusal to profit from human rights violations “a loser position.”
Palantir, which was co-founded by billionaire investor and Donald Trump supporter Peter Thiel, has partnered with Amazon to provide facial recognition software to government and law enforcement agencies. Palantir runs on Amazon Web Services. The company was also paid $39 million for the “operations and maintenance” of FALCON, its system for tracking immigrants. In a June 2018 letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, a group of concerned company employees wrote that “in the face of this immoral US policy, and the US’ increasingly inhumane treatment of refugees and immigrants beyond this specific policy, we are deeply concerned that Amazon is implicated, providing infrastructure and services that enable ICE.”
There have also been recent protests outside Palantir’s headquarters calling on the company to sever ties with ICE.
While Ethics In Tech applauds Lesbians Who Tech for booting Palantir from its event sponsors, the conference website lists numerous other companies which have come under fire for their own crimes, misdeeds and rights abuses. These include financial firms like Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, BlackRock and Capital One, as well as tech and telecom companies including Google, Verizon and CenturyLink.
Past speakers at the event include former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and San Francisco Mayor London Breed.
(Photo Credit: Bay City News — Protesters demonstrate outside Palantir’s Palo Alto, California headquarters on August 16, 2019, demanding the company end its contracts with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)