Wellesley College has joined a cohort of educational institutes across the country to protest the deals between Palantir and United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).Palantir is a data integration and data-mining company headquartered in Palo Alto, California. In recent months, Palantir’s dealings with ICE have been disclosed through government filings of contracts between the two entities.
Palantir has two primary software products which it sells to ICE: Investigative Case Management (ICM) and Falcon. Both of these seek to analyze, secure and manage data. It employs its software to find patterns and connect data for security or law enforcement purposes. In recent months, Palantir’s dealings with ICE have raised questions over ethical accountability and partisanship in a broader domestic context. ICE has recently led one of the harshest crackdowns on immigrants in history, increasing deportantions and restricting inflow of immigrants by resorting to human rights violations and imprisonment of said immigrants. According to the New York Times, Palantir was founded with capital raised by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s venture capital arm. Now, though it is no longer affiliated with the government explicitly, Palantir constructs software that is critical to the use of ICE agents to carry out their activities in identifying and investigating families and children who cross the border.
Several universities and college campuses in the United States have led campaigns and petitions against Palantir contracts with ICE, including Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and UC Berkeley, to name a few. Students across the nation have signed pledges not to work with Palantir until they drop their ICE contracts throughout their student body. At Wellesley, Jun Ru Anderson ’21 has spearheaded this pledge effort, which has gained widespread recognition on campus.
According to Anderson, “This is an important discussion to have because some companies are enabling crimes against humanity, all companies need employees to function and so if a company that is enabling crimes against humanity can’t get employees, they can’t continue enabling crimes against humanity. Therefore, students, who are the employees of the future, can push back against companies that are committing flagrant ethical violations.”
The petition, registered through the website of the Latinx and immigrant advocacy group Mijente, has had more than 100 signatures and counting from Wellesley alone. When those signatures are added to those from schools across the country, the total jumps to over 2,000. According to Anderson, this petition is a subset of the movement for ‘#NoTechForIce.’ #NoTechForIce is a nascent arm of the movement for immigrant rights, aiming to curtail technological giants such as Amazon and Palantir, from providing technical support to ICE. Palantir utilizes Amazon’s Amazon Web Services (AWS), which provides a cloud server for Palantir’s operations.
Nearly all universities and colleges who have issued petitions are utilizing Mijente’s outreach and influence to spread the petitions. The group has encouraged student action, as well as organized protests and worked with employees of Palantir and Amazon who are resisting their own companies’ policies. A Mijente spokesperson commented, “Palantir pays thousands directly to colleges in order to gain access to students via campus career fairs, faculty advisors, info sessions, special access to student resumes and projects and more …. Students are targeting these cozy relationships, knowing that without these recruiting partnerships, Palantir’s work and reputation will suffer. They’re using their leverage as potential employees, sending a message to the firm that keeping the ICE contract is costing them future talent.”
The petition at Wellesley has been advertised using several means, such as online postings and flyers on campus. As far as reactions go, students have mostly been supportive — when they know what Palantir was at all. “Many students hadn’t heard of Palantir’s involvement with ICE, or even of Palantir’s existence, when they arrived on campus this fall,” Anderson explained in an email to the News.“As tech-recruiting season is early (for reference, a Palantir recruiter reached out to me on August 5th) I wanted to get the word out as soon as the school year started. Asking people to promise to turn down a job offer before they know if it’ll be their only one is a big ask, and so I’m super proud of all the students who have made this commitment.”
Wellesley College has a lucrative and ever-growing computer science department, with computer science being one of the most popular majors on-campus. The relevance of technological skills in an increasingly cloud-based world is a leading cause of this trend. But with an increase in student interest in the tech industry, more employers and firms recruit on-campus as well as through their own recruiting resources. However, some Wellesley students are questioning the unchecked ethical standards of tech companies. Alie Langston, another student who supports the #NoTechForICE movement on campus, commented, “Ethical accountability does not yet exist in most tech firms. While many companies are starting to create ethics boards or ethics standards they are internally regulated and created. Outside of tech firms, I don’t think many people realize how most technologies we use can and are being weaponized. That’s why raising awareness around these issues is so important: if people don’t know what these companies are building, we can’t protest and hold them accountable.”