Palantir — which first launched in 2004 and is now valued at $20 billion — specializes in software development and data analytics and operates out of Palo Alto, Calif. The event was part of a larger #NoTechForIce Student Day of Action, coordinated by Mijente — a national hub for Latinx and Chicanx organizing — to protest the tech company’s active contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) worth around $92 million.
About a dozen student organizers explained the event to passersby and handed out fliers containing information on Palantir’s relationship to CMU. João Martins, a graduate student at CMU’s School of Computer Science and a member of Tech4Society, helped with Tuesday’s event.
“Tech4Society does work with other organizations who do social good, we realize what tech can be used for and we care about how it is used,” Martins said. “A lot of companies who use tech for harm are coming to campus, and it’s on us to organize around it.”
ICE has been mired in scandals, including more than hundreds of complaints of sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by ICE officers, and reports of ICE wrongfully detaining nearly 1,500 people since 2012, including hundreds of U.S. citizens. Pennsylvania is also home to the most aggressive ICE agents in the country.
Palantir was on CMU’s campus twice in October. Bonnie Fan, a graduate student in Public Policy and Data Analytics, has been actively involved in anti-ICE organizing on campus and feels it is the responsibility of students to call out the university for its involvement with tech companies that supply services to such a controversial agency.
“CMU prides itself on being ethical and supporting free speech and open dialogue,” Fan said. “But they continue to provide a platform to harmful viewpoints and send students who don’t know any better to work for these harmful companies.”
CMU spokesperson Jason Maderer said in a statement that the university supports the student’s rights to protest.
“Freedom of speech, thought, expression, and assembly are core to Carnegie Mellon University’s educational and intellectual mission,” said Maderer. “We support the rights of students protesting and firmly believe CMU must be a place where ideas are expressed freely, provided that discourse respects the rights of the university community.”
Palantir’s original investors include former Facebook board member, Peter Thiel, current Palantir CEO Alex Karp, and the CIA. In addition to the CIA and ICE, Palantir also partners with the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Internal Revenue Service. Thiel, who endorsed Trump in 2016, has said that he plans to do so again in 2020. Reports show Thiel is still close with Trump, as he recently attended a dinner with Trump and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Some universities have ended relationships with Palantir because of its affiliation with ICE. The Privacy Law Scholars Conference, affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley, severed financial ties with Palantir following a series of complaints that the relationship was indefensible in the current political climate.
ICE used Palantir’s technology in the August raid of a Mississippi factory that resulted in the arrest of around 680 undocumented immigrants. Laura Perkins, the emergency response organizer at Casa San Jose — an independent, nonprofit resource center for immigrants in Pittsburgh — believes collateral arrests will become the norm with the continued use of Palantir’s technology.
“Under previous administrations, the individuals detained often had a relationship to crime, now it’s anyone who fits the description,” Perkins said. “Palantir is taking advantage of the potential of these students without informing them of what they’re actually doing.”