Comments by Sanwar Ali:
Controversial IT company Palantir has been awarded the UK border contract. The co-founder of Palantir Peter Thiel has in the past been a strong supporter of Trump, providing $1.25 million to his campaign in 2016. Thiel is gay which is unusual for a Trump supporter. The virulently anti-gay Ken Cuccinelli was appointed by Trump to head the US visa agency the USCIS. There have also been numerous attacks on LGBT rights by Trump.
There have been a number of allegations of racism against Trump. There has been the Trump “muslim ban”, the wall to keep out “Mexican rapists”, Trump referring to certain mainly black countries as “shithole countries”, etc. Palantir has been closely involved with immigration enforcement during Donald Trump’s Presidency. Peter Thiel the Chairman of Palantir, of course, being gay is also from a minority group.
It is perhaps surprising that a company founded and chaired by former Trump donor Peter Thiel should be entrusted to help with UK border control. There have been campaigns to boycott Palantir due to it’s links to controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the US. In the UK there have been numerous scandals alleging discrimination by the Home Office. Surely the Johnson Government and the Home Office should try and avoid further controversy.
The numerous University campus boycotts in the US against Palantir, has resulted in the company having to abandon plans to recruit students at a number of Universities. Last year it was dropped as the Diamond Sponsor of the world’s largest conference for women in technology, the Grace Hopper Celebration. However, some have considered this to be somewhat hypocritical as other companies such as Microsoft and Raytheon that have links to US immigration enforcement were kept as sponsors.
A company that has come under fire for its role in US deportations has controversially been awarded a UK border control contract by the British government. American tech firm, Palantir, has been handed a contract to oversee the UK’s post-Brexit border and customs data. The company has been known to be a vocal supporter of Donald Trump.
Palantir is notoriously known for its role in driving the Trump administration’s efforts to deport migrants from the United States, with the firm’s co-founder, Peter Thiel, an admirer of the Trump ‘regime’.
According to an article published by The Guardian, Palantir will manage the data analytics and architecture of the UK’s new ‘border flow tool.’ However, given the company’s association with US immigration, there’s likely to be suspicion that the firm will play some role in analysing UK immigration data, post-Brexit.
Transit of goods and customs
According to a Cabinet Office document, seen by The Guardian, Palantir will ‘collate data on the transit of goods and customs from 31 December 2020. Drawn up by a team of civil servants tasked with managing the transition to post-Brexit border arrangements, the document warns of potentially 7,000 lorries having to queue to enter the European Union.
The document also states that ‘delays of up to two days’ can be expected. Meanwhile, it’s understood that a border and protocol delivery group is establishing a ‘border impact centre’ with Whitehall, to monitor issues with customs and the transit of goods once the Brexit transitional period ends.
The document says: “Services are being procured from Palantir, a leader in data analytics, to provide the data infrastructure and analytics capabilities to support the development of a border flow tool.”
Controversial Palantir founded by Thiel
Founded in 2004 by Thiel and tech specialist Alex Karp, Palantir is at the center of controversy in the US amid criticism of its ties with several branches of the US government. Palantir has become a multibillion-dollar business largely through the supply of data analytics software to government departments, including the Central Intelligence Agency.
Thiel, considered a libertarian, openly backed Trump’s plan to ‘rebuild the US’, during a speech he gave at the Republican National Convention in 2016. At the time, he said: “Fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline, and nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump.”
Despite his glowing endorsement of Trump back then, The Wall Street Journal reported that Thiel has withheld donations toward Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. Thiel reportedly has doubts over Trump’s ability to win the presidential race amid the economic turmoil caused by coronavirus.
The controversy surrounding Palantir is largely down to its continued partnership with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency that is at the centre of a Netflix documentary highlighting its cruel practices toward immigrants.
In documents leaked to The Intercept, Palantir’s Investigative Case Management software is described as ‘mission critical’ to ICE’s deportation efforts. In 2014, the firm was handed a $41m (£31.5m) contract to develop the software.
Palantir tried to distance itself from ICE
Palantir has attempted to distance itself from its involvement in ICE operations. A statement issued to The New York Times in 2018, claimed that Palantir’s contract with ICE was ‘in support of a separate division to that tasked with investigating migrants.’
The American tech firm was blasted by its own staff for its involvement with ICE. However, Karp maintained that Palantir was ‘proud of its work’.
Meanwhile, amid the withdrawal of high-profile companies from government contracts, Thiel launched a scathing attack on Google, accusing them of “treasonous” behaviour for withdrawing from its own government contract, according to The Washington Post.
Palantir in the UK
According to leaked documents seen by The Guardian earlier this year, Downing Street had hired the services of Palantir to accumulate and analyse a huge amount of data from UK public authorities, some of which included confidential patient data as part of helping the government in its battle against coronavirus.
The Cabinet Office document states that from January to April 2021, Palantir’s border flow tool will ‘monitor any potential impacts resulting from border controls being imposed by EU member states on goods or people coming from the UK.’
A UK government spokesperson said: “Palantir will only process data in the UK. The procurement of any services from Palantir will be done transparently and fully in line with well-established government procurement rules. Robust testing has shown Palantir’s technologies are effective, making the company well-placed to deliver the border flow tool.”
“As with all contracts of this nature, the government will put in place strict measures to protect data,” the spokesperson added.
Palantir has offered no comment on being handed the contract.
The news comes amid recent reports of the Home Office’s decision to scrap a controversial UK visa algorithm that was being used to screen immigration applications to determine a person’s suitability for entry to the UK.
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