Sixty tech workers on January 18 demonstrated at the Palo Alto, California headquarters of Palantir, a secretive data mining company developing databases that can be used by the government to track and monitor people.
The demonstration, organized by Dobetter tech, a network of tech industry designers, engineers, support staff, and business operatives, demanded that Palantir never support the Trump administration in creating a Muslim registry or assist in any way with mass deportations.
According to Fortune, Palantir, a $20 billion company with $131 million in government contracts, “is already working closely with the US Customs and Border Protection agency on a system that tracks citizens and determines whether they are a risk.
“The system, known as the Analytical Framework for Intelligence (AFI), pulls data from a host of federal, state, and local law-enforcement databases to create profiles of individuals, including personal details, travel histories, and even social relationships.”
Fortune notes that AFI could be a precursor for a Muslim registry.
The Intercept reports that Palantir also is working on another people tracking database for the government.
According to The Intercept, since 2011, “the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations has paid Palantir tens of millions of dollars to help construct and operate a complex intelligence system called FALCON, which allows ICE to store, search, and analyze troves of data that include family relationships, employment information, immigration history, criminal records, and home and work addresses.”
Palantir’s founder, is Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and a senior adviser on President Donald Trump’s transition team.
Thiel’s close relationship with the President, and Palantir’s contracts with agencies that could be involved if Trump decides to implement a Muslim registry caused tech workers like Jason Prado, a Facebook software engineer, to be concerned about the role that Palantir and other Silicone Valley companies might play in mass deportations of Muslims.
“We want to make it clear that the overall tech community is watching what Palantir does,” said Prado to The Verge. “And we want to hold the tech community overall accountable for the values that we as a community have.”
Before the January 18 demonstration, Dobetter tech posted an online petition that urged Palantir to join other tech companies “in disavowing any involvement with mass deportations,” to reveal what steps it will take to ensure that Palantir’s databases won’t be used for “abusive purposes,” and to dismantle the databases “if abuse cannot be accounted for or prevented.”
After the petition was posted and the call for the demonstration was published online, Thiel responded by saying that if Palantir was asked to design a Muslim registry, the company would not do so.
Prado told The Verge that he was glad to hear about Thiel’s pledge, but that he and other concerned tech workers are “also interested in (Palantir’s) possible involvement in mass deportations and we plan to keep pushing on that.”
Prado is a member of the Tech Worker Coalition, which is working with Dobetter tech to hold Palantir accountable.
They are also interested in addressing some of the tech industry’s shortcomings such as its mistreatment of support staff, who often work for contractors that pay low wages with few benefits.
They are both working on a campaign to expose on-the-job abuses suffered by low-wage contract security workers at Amazon.
Their Stand for Security campaign asks tech workers to sign a petition addressed to Amazon. The petition begins, “As developers, engineers, sales, support staff and allies in this highly competitive tech industry, we understand the importance of security and the tremendous consequences any breach could have.
“We are writing today because we are concerned with Security Industry Specialists’ (SIS) treatment of its security officers at Amazon HQ in Seattle.”
The petition goes on to describe a number of abuses that Amazon security workers have suffered.