Tech workers picket Palantir in Palo Alto amid 'Muslim registry' fears

Demonstrators demand commitment against aiding a Trump administration database

About 50 tech workers and members of civil rights groups demonstrated in front of Palo Alto-based Palantir Technologies on Wednesday morning, demanding the Silicon Valley data-mining firm not participate in creating a Muslim registry for the incoming Trump administration.

The protesters said they are concerned the company would work with the administration to create the registry by using its analytics technologies to mine law-enforcement databases. President-elect Donald Trump said during his campaign that he wanted to create a Muslim registry as part of his "extreme vetting" plan to prevent terrorists from entering the country.

Palantir has many federal contracts including with the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency. Palantir's co-founder and chairman Peter Thiel is a senior Trump adviser.

Tech Workers Coalition members became concerned about Palantir's potential participation in a Muslim registry after documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center found Palantir has created a system for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to track and assess immigrants. The documents, which were published in a story by online tech-news publication The Verge, note that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can access the system, called the Analytical Framework for Intelligence (AFI).

Last week Thiel and company CEO Alex Karp denied to The New York Times and Forbes respectively that Palantir would create such a registry. Karp said the Trump administration has not asked the company to do so.

In addition, last week, Trump's picks for attorney general and Homeland Security secretary -- Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly -- said during their Senate hearings that they do not agree with the idea of a Muslim registry.

Demonstrator Valerie Aurora, whose company Frame Shift Consulting works to increase diversity and inclusion at technology firms, said Palantir should make a fuller commitment.

"Palantir had made a narrow, specific promise that they won't build a Muslim registry, but they should be more transparent," she said.

Tech Workers Coalition organizers Matt Schaefer and Jason Prado agreed. Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Google, IBM, Uber and Microsoft have all proactively said they won't help create a Muslim registry.

"This particular action is about calling on Palantir to specifically pledge not to create a Muslim registry and to publicly describe how they are going to prevent the abuse of data collected in some of their systems," said Schaefer, a tech worker. "It's a call to people in tech to stand up and fulfill their obligation to their community. I think they have a substantial amount of power and capability. We're trying to address our fellow workers to hold their own companies accountable and to be a check on that power."

Said Prado: "We want these companies ... to reveal how the data is used. We're raising awareness about the impact (technology) tools can have in the world. ... We see this as a beginning. Silicon Valley tech workers are finding their voice, and we plan to hold more demonstrations anywhere there is a potential for technology to be used for ill."

Palantir said in a request for comment: "Both our CEO and our board chair have stated that Palantir will not participate in any kind of Muslim registry."

In a policy statement on its website, the company further states that a core component of its mission is protecting fundamental rights to privacy and civil liberties.

"Some argue that society must 'balance' freedom and safety, and that in order to better protect ourselves from those who would do us harm, we have to give up some of our liberties. We believe that this is a false choice in many areas. Particularly in the world of data analysis, liberty does not have to be sacrificed to enhance security.

"Palantir is constantly looking for ways to protect privacy and individual liberty through its technology while enabling the powerful analysis necessary to generate the actionable intelligence that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies need to fulfill their missions."

In October 2012, the company created the Palantir Council of Advisors on Privacy and Civil Liberties.

"Technological advances often raise novel privacy and civil liberties issues. Where the law is silent or undeveloped, Palantir consults with privacy and civil-liberties advocates and some of the top legal experts in the world to figure out how to build our technology with safeguards that can be used as part of a responsible information handling regime. We obligate ourselves to do what is right, not just what is legal," the company stated.

A federal program for registering non-U.S. citizens from certain countries is not a new idea. In the wake of 9/11, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System was launched in 2002 and required adult men visiting from 25 countries, many in the Middle East, to register upon arrival, according to the Federal Register. It was abandoned in 2011, and in late December, the Department of Homeland Security removed supporting regulations that were still on the books.

Demonstrators Wednesday said the drive to get Silicon Valley companies to protect immigrants and to be more transparent regarding the capabilities and use of their technologies protects all Americans.

"I read history and the things that Trump proposes will directly lead to human rights abuses on a massive scale, so I want to start fighting now," Aurora said.

Rachel Melendes, a member of Unite Here, a union that represents hotel and hospitality workers at technology companies, said that people in her industry are scared.

"I think data gathering has been happening for a long time -- people have been profiling people for a long time," she said.


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18 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 18, 2017 at 6:47 pm

If Palantir promised not to violate the human rights of Americans, Palo Alto should expel them if they break the promise.

16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 7:39 pm

Does anyone really think that the FBI/CIA are not quite well informed on all of us already? Why should religion not have been included?

19 people like this
Posted by @Resident
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 18, 2017 at 7:58 pm

"Does anyone really think that the FBI/CIA are not quite well informed on all of us already? Why should religion not have been included?"

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how it was possible to have the Final Solution -- because of thinking like that.

40 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 9:42 pm

It is propaganda and fear mongering to suggest there will be a national Muslim registry. Trump's comments were in the context of dangerous people coming to the US from terrorist hotbeds.

There remains a need for an Islamic Terrorist watch/tracking list which by definition will be almost 100% Muslim.

The enemy encourages these false protests so that it can hide behind our freedoms. It is turning the naive and misguided into pawns and worse.

41 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 18, 2017 at 10:01 pm

Why shouldn't a national terrorist watch list include home-grown terror suspects, such as Dylan Roof or Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph?

30 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 10:54 pm

Timothy McVeigh was captured shortly after his bombing and executed in 2001. Dylan Roof was arrested the day after his shooting and has recently been convicted for his crime and sentenced to death. Once Eric Rudolph was identified as a suspect he was placed on the FBI's 10 most wanted list. I am afraid I don't see an inconsistency here and even how those examples are relevant.

Your examples were all of individuals using terrorist tactics. They were also US citizens already living here locally. As far as has been identified, they were not part of a global network or ideology that has declared war against the United States.

In other cases where those structures have been identified like with organized crime or terrorist organizations, they certainly are monitored and screened more robustly with data mining.

For cases of failed states or openly hostile regions of the globe like Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen where there are no traditionally reliable ways to screen people, extra precautions using profiling and electronic vetting techniques are necessary and reasonably warranted.

Passports and customs form declarations are just not sufficient to keep us safe.

21 people like this
Posted by Meh
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2017 at 11:13 pm

Palantir is just a convenient target for fears and misgivings about what Trump has proposed. If he made his list in an Excel spreadsheet would people be picketing in Redmond?

29 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 18, 2017 at 11:43 pm

@Sanctimonious City - The whole point of a terrorist watch list is to stop them BEFORE they commit mass murder. That is what Trump is proposing with his database, right??

9 people like this
Posted by al munday
a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2017 at 8:31 am

Hitler's Germany used cataloging to keep track of the sects/people that they killed. it is a hidden fact that IBM's programs helped nazi germany do that

check out the book: "IBM and the Holocaust" by Edwin Black

what Trump wants to do is so similiar. but who knows maybe our gov't has already cataloged that already

9 people like this
Posted by Srsly
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2017 at 9:31 am

Srsly is a registered user.

Palantir is guilty of performing a lot of questionable and amoral project work, but a Muslim Registry is not one of them!

17 people like this
Posted by MyOpinion
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 19, 2017 at 10:46 am

Agree it is creepy that a CIA backed startup has such a presence in leafy liberal Palo Alto. And let us not forget the Thiel-Trump connection so now Palantir is in the White House, it's like a bad spy movie. But even if Palantir made teddy bears I would picket them for destroying the character of downtown Palo Alto. I think it's time they put on their big-boy pants and found themselves a office campus outside of downtown (and don't come to Mountain View, we have more than our share of startups and tech companies)

Palantir Palo Alto locations (corrections to this list are welcome):
101 Forest Ave
100 Hamilton Ave
167 Hamilton Ave
542 High St
650 High St
151 Lytton Ave
181 Lytton Ave
151 University Ave
156 University Ave
635 Waverley St

3 people like this
Posted by haha
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 19, 2017 at 11:07 am

they will be added into the "never hire" list of Palantir. Haha.

11 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2017 at 3:00 pm

The "CIA's primary mission is to collect, analyze, evaluate, and disseminate foreign intelligence to assist the President and senior US government policymakers in making decisions relating to national security."

Web Link

What is so "creepy" about having a CIA office in Palo Alto? They need our best talent and support to do their job effectively. Their employees are your sons, daughters and neighbors.

Maybe some prefer that we don't defend our country against our enemies who are actively trying to hurt us or impair our strategic interests.

Or maybe, some just prefer to let others do the difficult and dangerous work and then sit back and criticize them while enjoying the protections they provide.

2 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 19, 2017 at 4:12 pm

Just to set the record straight McVeigh did have accomplices - it was more than an individual act on his part see (e.g.) Web Link.

16 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 19, 2017 at 5:01 pm

"Maybe some prefer that we don't defend our country against our enemies who are actively trying to hurt us or impair our strategic interests."

True. And one of them will become President of the United States this Friday.

1 person likes this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2017 at 10:50 pm

I guess underpasses like we have on Oregon and Embarcadero would be too much to ask. Engineers five decades ago could figure that out and get it done in a year.

If it is any consolation, we have the high speed rail boondoggle syphoning off resources and connecting two tumbleweeds together near Bakersfield. In the meantime, maybe we could get Curmudgeon to stand out by the tracks and wave a red lantern when the train is coming ;-)

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of another community

on Sep 26, 2017 at 1:41 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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