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Palantir: Why is the UK Government giving our money to Trump’s deportation profiteers? Comment

Recent revelations that controversial US tech firm Palantir had secured a major UK government contract should trouble us all, writes Andrew Smith.

New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Tuesday, September 22, 2020 10:49 - 0 Comments


Palantir pavilion, World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland. (Credit: Gruntzooki, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

“I became a whistleblower, now I’m a target.” This is how nurse Dawn Wooten described her situation last week. She was speaking at a press conference in which she exposed the terrible conditions and practices at the Irwin County Detention Centre in the US state of Georgia. Among other horrific examples of abuse, Wooten alleges that detainees have been subjected to potentially unnecessary hysterectomies without obtaining their full consent.

The allegations, which have been denied by the centre, are the most recent in a long series of horror stories from the world’s largest detention system. Family unity is supposed to be a hallmark of US immigration policy, but it is the countless examples of separated families and images of children in cages that have come to symbolise the callousness and calculated cruelty behind the shameful authoritarianism of the Trump administration.

The ruthless dehumanisation that underpins it did not come out of nowhere. It is a continuation of many years of abuses against migrant communities and has been driven by the deep well of racism and intolerance that has fuelled Donald Trump’s presidency.

This extreme and intensified anti-immigrant campaign, spearheaded by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has been greatly facilitated by the deployment of increasingly high-tech equipment, software, and technology.”

One of the chief architects of this technology is Palantir, a surveillance tech company that was co-founded by Peter Thiel, a multibillionaire tech mogul and outspoken Trump supporter. Its Integrated Case Management System is used to store data collected from surveillance networks. This sea of information is then distributed and assigned to files on individuals or organisations.

As documents leaked to The Intercept made clear, far from a passive data system, the technology provides a vast “ecosystem” of data and is “mission critical” to ICE’s deportation efforts. The brutality has proved lucrative, with Palantir having been awarded almost $42 million worth of contracts by ICE since 2008.

Many of the people trapped in the system have lived in the US for years. They have had families, established friendship groups, and built lives. Others have been there for shorter time periods but have fled chaotic and oppressive situations. They have been victim to terrible circumstances and should be offered safety and security, rather than being hounded by ICE forces using Palantir technology.

Palantir’s footprint extends far beyond the US, with offices and contracts all over the world. Last week, the Guardian revealed that it has secured a major UK government contract to collate customs and trade data in the aftermath of Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Over recent years, Palantir has also been awarded significant contracts by other government departments. These include the Ministry of Defence, which has awarded it contracts worth at least £39 million, the NHS, from which it recently won a £1 million data contract without a competitive tender, and the Cabinet Office, which has paid the company at least £741,000 for IT services.

The message that these contracts send is that Palantir is just another tech company providing just another service. Of course, ultimately the Trump administration is responsible for its own actions, but we cannot ignore the complicity of companies like Palantir in the implementation of such severe and punishing policies.

Providing the tools that enable the mass targeting and detention of vulnerable people is not a neutral act and can never be apolitical. Nobody is forced to provide the infrastructure of oppression. It is a corporate choice, and one that has had real and devastating consequences.

Unfortunately, there are unlikely to be any regrets in Whitehall. The UK government is itself far from innocent when it comes to the application of harsh and punishing migration policies. Its own role in the establishment and implementation of hostile environment policies is what led to the Windrush scandal.

Despite the superficial apologies and regrets of the then-Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, nothing has changed. Over recent weeks, Ministers have whipped-up further hysteria while drones have been used to intimidate and scare migrants crossing the Channel. Downing Street has been more concerned with achieving harsh headlines and political scapegoating rather than safe and legal routes to asylum.

Governments and newspapers around the world are always talking about the so-called ‘migrant crisis.’ But there is no such thing. There is a crisis of war, poverty, inequality, and exploitation and, all too often, refugees and migrants have been the victims of it. Real people’s lives are on the line, they should not be used as a cynical political tool by reactionary governments or a business opportunity for companies like Palantir.


Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade and tweets at @CAATuk

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