By Hairo Cortes, Chispa
If Immigration and Customs Enforcement defined the mid-2000s and the 2010s by enlisting of local police and sheriff departments to scale deportation operations, then the latter part of this decade and its immediate future will be defined by the growing enlistment of tech companies in hyper-charging the deportation machine.
This past weekend, the budding relationship between ICE and big tech companies like Amazon and Palantir served as the center of discussions at Mijente’s “Take Back Tech” convening in San Jose, which brought together tech workers, attorneys, privacy and immigrant rights organizers from across the country.
The three main objectives of Take Back Tech were to:
1) Establish a foundational knowledge about the growing use of data processing technology to support ICE’s deportation operations.
2) Name the actors within the tech sector benefiting financially from the separation of families and terrorizing of immigrant communities through lucrative contracts with ICE and Border Patrol.
3) Begin developing a collective understanding of the strategies we can, as organizers and advocates, employ to disrupt ICE 2.0 by taking on tech firms.
When it came to naming the enemy at this critical point, Palantir stood out among all others. Headquartered in Palo Alto, the software company specializing in data analytics prides itself on building software that “connects data, technology, humans and environments.” But hidden behind the aspirational mission statements, promotional materials, and obsessive association with The Lord of the Rings, lies the simple fact that their software was deemed “mission critical” by ICE’s top leadership.
Described as “Facebook for ICE,” by Jacinta Gonzales, a Mijente organizer, Palantir’s Integrated Case Management (ICM) system has been an important tool in the agency’s arsenal during their latest series of raids. The program, similar to its main competitor COPLINK, takes data on individuals, organizations, vehicles and other sources of information to allow users to find individuals based on categories like race, eye color, and country of origin. It’s what allows ICE to have a list of people to target complete with photos, identifying information, and even profiles on people they live and associate with, all within a neatly packaged app on their phones.
For Palantir’s systems, this data is obtained and then made available to federal immigration enforcement agencies through the Fusion Center technology widely used by California’s law enforcement agencies, including the Orange County Sheriff Department, as well as law enforcement and intelligence agencies across the country with Palantir contracts.
Where Palantir would like to think themselves the forces of good, with slogans like “Save the Shire” and names like “Gondor” for their offices, the simple fact is they’re more akin to the Ring Wraiths of Tolkien lore, human kings who traded their souls and betrayed humanity to the Dark Lord Sauron for selfish gain.
So how do we combat ICE 2.0?
The past strategies of shaming and posing ethical dilemmas to the Trump Administration as we did with the Obama Administration won’t work. For Trump and ICE, human suffering is the point. Images of human rights violations at the border and in immigrant communities across the country are badges of honor to them.
Steven Renderos of Media Justice offered some insights at Take Back Tech including the need to be engaging in corporate campaigns by enlisting tech workers, investors, and the public at large to demand these companies cut their contracts with ICE. On this front, they’ve had success in enlisting investors to introduce resolutions like these at Amazon shareholder meetings.
In Orange County, it’s time we brush up on our tech literacy and take a deep look at the OCSD’s Fusion Center and make the indirect exchange of information between local law enforcement agencies and ICE by way of their shared use of Palantir technology a problem that can’t be ignored.