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USA: concerns over tech giant Palantir involvement in immigration enforcement

Technology firm provided services which led to separation of child migrants from parents

Palantir has contract with NHS to facilitate Covid-19 datastore

‘The UK public have a right to know what sort of company is being granted unprecedented access to their health data records’ - Peter Frankental

In advance of the listing of Palantir Technologies, Inc on the New York Stock Exchange tomorrow, Amnesty International accused the US tech giant of failing to conduct human rights due diligence around its contracts with the controversial US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, warning of the high risk that Palantir is contributing to the human rights violations of asylum-seekers and migrants.

Earlier this month, Amnesty wrote to Palantir raising concerns about its contracts with the US Department of Homeland Security for products and services for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

In its response, Palantir claimed its contracts were with the criminal investigative division of the immigration agency - a body known as Homeland Security Investigations - and that its software “does not facilitate” civil immigration enforcement by the immigration department’s removals unit. However, this claim is inconsistent with other evidence indicating that Palantir's technology has indeed been used in a removals context, including government records which the company now disputes.

Instead of substantively addressing the human rights risks of its contracts with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Palantir has sought to deflect and minimise its responsibility. The company has also failed to provide evidence of any due diligence steps taken to prevent its technology being used to facilitate human rights violations by the immigration agency.

Michael Kleinman, Director of Amnesty International’s Silicon Valley Initiative, said:

“Palantir touts its ethical commitments, saying it will never work with regimes that abuse human rights abroad.

“This is deeply ironic, given the company’s willingness stateside to work directly with ICE, which has used its technology to execute harmful policies that target migrants and asylum-seekers.

“We could close our eyes and pretend that contrary to all the evidence, Palantir is a rights-respecting company or we can call this façade what it is: another company placing profit over people, no matter the human cost.”

Past use of Palantir technology

In 2017, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency used Palantir technology to facilitate the arrest of parents and caregivers of unaccompanied children, leading to detentions and children’s welfare being harmed. Similarly, the agency has used Palantir technology to plan mass raids, including raids that ICE [remove that ICE] carried out in Mississippi in August 2019 which again led to the separation of children from their parents and caregivers. These raids in turn led to cases of prolonged detention and deportation.

Palantir’s ICM and FALCON technology facilitated these operations by enabling government agencies to identify, share information on, investigate, and track migrants and asylum-seekers to carry out arrests and workplace raids.

Lack of transparency

Transparency is a key component of due diligence and in failing to provide details of how it has addressed the high risks to human rights of its contracts with the immigration agency, Palantir is not meeting its responsibility to respect human rights. Amnesty is calling on the company to prevent its technology from being used to facilitate human rights violations. Palantir must immediately carry out human rights due diligence and take effective steps to ensure that its technology is not contributing to abuses against migrants and asylum-seekers by the US government. As part of this due diligence, Palantir must publish details of the technology it has provided to the immigration agency through its contracts, and the human rights safeguards it has put in place.

Until Palantir can demonstrate that its technology is not contributing to abuses against migrants and asylum-seekers and can ensure its technology will not be used for these purposes, it must urgently consider suspending all activities to provide the relevant government agencies with its products and services.

Amnesty is also calling on the US Congress to conduct robust oversight over Palantir’s contracts with government agencies.

Palantir’s contract with NHS and Covid-19 datastore

The data-mining company has been awarded a substantial contract with the NHS in the UK, which was recently expanded.

Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, the UK Government has quietly granted access to millions of UK health data records to Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Palantir to build a Covid-19 “datastore”. Though the tech companies cannot walk away with direct patient records, they can walk away with the lucrative AI  models built from those records and potentially make themselves indispensable partners for future the provision of software to analyse patient data.That may help explain why Palantir initially agreed to assist the UK Covid-19 response for a nominal £1 fee.

Peter Frankental, Economic Affairs Programme Director at Amnesty International UK, said:

“When a US company with a highly questionable human rights record is scooping up vast amounts of NHS data, we need to know what due diligence checks ministers have carried out.

“The UK public have a right to know what sort of company is being granted unprecedented access to their health data records, and precisely what Palantir intends to do with it.”


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