Founded in 2003, data analytics company Palantir Technologies has recently become one of Silicon Valley’s most controversial tech companies. The firm, which licenses software to Fiat and Morgan Stanley, has received intense criticism for its contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Having dealt with protests at its offices, the firm now faces a potential brain drain.
Earlier this week, 1,200 students from 17 universities pledged not to work for Palantir until it ends its business relationship with ICE.
University Students Boycott ICE
Since 2014, Palantir has supplied ICE with data-mining software support for its Investigative Case Management System. With it, the agency can screen for undocumented immigrants, launch workplace raids, and conduct deportations. Since the Trump administration has adopted a hard-line stance toward undocumented immigrants, Palantir’s work with the government agency has come under increased scrutiny.
In August, Palantir made a new deal with ICE to continue its services agreement through 2021 for $49 million. News of the deal has sparked protests at the tech companies New York and California offices. Demonstrators presented the tech firm with a 100,000 signature petition asking it to stop working with the government agency.
More recently, student activists have joined the fight to keep tech firms from servicing the government organization.
Consequently, in early September, 1,200 students from universities like Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Yale signed a pledge to not work for Palantir until it cuts ties with ICE.
The student protesters have taken issue with the firm because of its close relationship to their schools. For instance, Palantir donates tens of thousands of dollars to Berkeley and Stanford’s computer departments every year. In exchange, the company has been granted special access to university’s students via career fairs and faculty advisors.
As of this writing, Palantir has not publicly responded to the student boycott.
As Business Insider notes, the University blacklisting of Palantir is part of a wider protest movement called #NoTechForICE. The organizers behind the effort want to expose the tech sector’s involvement with immigration enforcement and use direct action to end any collaborations between the two.
Thus far, #NoTechForICE has had mixed results in realizing its aims.
In 2018, a group of workers asked CEO Alex Karp to terminate the firm’s government contracts. Similarly, this August, more than 60 Palantir employees signed a petition asking the firm to donate its ICE contract revenue to a nonprofit organization. Both internal reform efforts proved unsuccessful.
On September 14, a group of demonstrators temporarily shut down a Microsoft store with a sit-in protest. The activists took action to demand the Big Tech firm stop providing ICE with software support. Last month, local police arrested dozens of protesters at an Amazon Books store in Manhattan. Jewish community groups occupied the shop to protest the corporation’s cloud services contract with the federal law enforcement agency.
Despite the size and intensity of the various #NoTechForICE protests, none of the above-mentioned companies have stopped working with the agency. Indeed, Alex Karp defended his firm’s dealings with ICE by arguing business executives shouldn’t set national policy.
Ultimately, Big Tech support of ICE shouldn’t be viewed through an ideological lens. As long as the Homeland Security subsidiary keeps offering multibillion-dollar tech contracts, Silicon Valley will continue offering its services.