from the surveillance-state-adds-surveillance-capitalism dept
ICE has gotten bigger and bolder under the Trump Administration. The minimal constraints placed on it by previous administrations have been removed, allowing the agency to gorge on data and engage in widespread surveillance. Billions of dollars and an untold amount of tech are being thrown at a “problem” that isn’t even criminal. Living in this country while undocumented is a civil violation, but ICE (and the Administration) treats it as one of the most severe threats to the nation.
America is apparently going to be made great by tossing out those aspiring to be Americans, or at the very least just trying to escape the horrors or poverty of their native countries. To ensure ICE can remove as many people as possible, the agency has tapped into national ALPR databases, run facial recognition searches against drivers license databases, and hooked up with a tech company nearly as reviled as ICE is.
But that’s not the full extent of ICE’s surveillance/deportation efforts. As Alvaro M. Bedoya reports for Slate, the agency is leveraging everything it can get it hands on to ensure a steady flow of undocumented immigrants out of this country.
In 2017, breaking with prior practice, ICE started to use data from interviews with scared, detained kids and their relatives to find and arrest more than 500 sponsors who stepped forward to take in the children. At the same time, ICE announced a plan for a social media monitoring program that would use artificial intelligence to automatically flag 10,000 people per month for deportation investigations. (It was scuttled only when computer scientists helpfully indicated that the proposed system was impossible.)
And it’s not enough for immigrants to steer clear of the entities that may help them get ejected from the country. ICE is all over anything that might lead it to more deportees.
Many immigrants avoid contact with any government agency, even the DMV, but they can’t go without heat, electricity, or water; ICE aimed to find them, too. So, that same year, ICE paid for access to a private database that includes the addresses of customers from 80 national and regional electric, cable, gas, and telephone companies.
There’s a private company weaving this massive amount of data into usable intel for ICE. Palantir provides the software that analyzes data, builds profiles, and makes sense of ICE’s massive data stash. The company even fills in any blanks ICE might have by adding in information purchased from data brokers.
Palantir doesn’t like to talk about its work with ICE. Bedoya points out the company’s most recent securities filing makes no mention of ICE or the company’s assistance in tracking down undocumented immigrants. It prefers to discuss its military customers and its supposed commitment to keeping this country safe. When asked directly about ICE, Palantir has downplayed its involvement. This is how Palantir’s CEO, Alex Karp, spins things.
When criticized, Karp has described Palantir’s work for ICE as “limited,” “a de minimis part of our work”—strange things for American contractor to say about its second–largest U.S. government client.
This toxic partnership has done little to damage Palantir’s reputation — at least as far as investors are concerned. Its work with ICE targets what many consider to be unimportant people: immigrants who are in the country illegally. If the company is good at what it does and customers like ICE are happy and willing to sign multi-million dollar contracts, any moral and legal qualms shareholders might have will be papered over with money.