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Amazon, Palantir are aiding mass deportations of govt ‘undesirables’: report

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A report reveals that Silicon Valley giants like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Palantir are providing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with the data to incarcerate and deport government “undesirables” en masse.

Unchecked, these tech companies will continue to do the government’s bidding in developing the systems that target and punish en masse those it deems ‘undesirable’

“A handful of huge corporations, like Amazon Web Services and Palantir, have built a ‘revolving door’ to develop and entrench Silicon Valley’s role in fueling the incarceration and deportation regime,” reads a report released on Tuesday by Mijente, the National Immigration Project, and the Immigrant Defense Project.

Read More: United Airlines partners with scandal-ridden, CIA-backed Palantir for data initiatives

“Unchecked, these tech companies will continue to do the government’s bidding in developing the systems that target and punish en masse those it deems ‘undesirable’ — immigrants, people of color, the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, activists, and others,” according to the report titled “Who’s Behind ICE? The Tech and Data Companies Fueling Deportations.”

‘450 Amazon employees tell Bezos to kick Palantir off AWS’

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The report was published a week after an anonymous Amazon employee who was veried by Medium, announced that Amazon should not be selling facial recognition software “Rekognition” to law enforcement as it was being used by police departments ICE without ethical oversight.

“A couple weeks ago, my co-workers delivered a letter to this effect, signed by over 450 employees, to Jeff Bezos and other executives. The letter also contained demands to kick Palantir, the software firm that powers much of ICE’s deportation and tracking program, off Amazon Web Services and to institute employee oversight for ethical decisions,” the anonymous Amazon employee wrote.

Read More: ‘450 Amazon employees tell Bezos to kick Palantir off AWS’

“Amazon’s website brags of the system’s ability to store and search tens of millions of faces at a time. Law enforcement has already started using facial recognition with virtually no public oversight or debate or restrictions on use from Amazon,” the Amazon employee added.

“For Amazon to say that we require our Rekognition customers to follow the law is no guarantee of civil liberties at all—it’s a way to avoid taking responsibility for the negative uses of this technology.”

Immigration Report Bias

The new report published yesterday is not without its bias. The language clearly states that it is against the immigration policies of the Trump administration, even going as far as saying the immigration policies are

part of a larger white supremacist project.

“Trump and Sessions are clear about their agenda. They are going after immigrants, naturalized and undocumented alike, as part of a larger white supremacist project,” the report reads.

It also called readers to action, stating, “Dismantling the lucrative relationship between tech and ICE must be a key component of the movement to push back against the Trump-Sessions agenda, to #AbolishICE, and to defend our families and communities.”

According to the 74-page immigration report, “The massive government cash infusion has even birthed new companies focused specifically on getting ICE contracts and expanded monopoly powers of major corporations in Silicon Valley, such as Palantir and Amazon.”

‘Cloud Industrial Complex’

Amazon sells its facial recognition software, Rekognition, to police departments and hosts Palantir on AWS. Palantir provides the software for much of the tracking and deportation systems used by ICE.

“Amazon and Palantir as two companies that are at the forefront of these developments, providing the collection, storage, and management of the vast amount of information required by ICE to increase its reach to the levels promised by the Trump administration. Both companies have enabled DHS to apply new technologies and expand its data-sharing capabilities to undermine and get around any local protections that were hard-fought and won by immigrant rights organizers,” according to the yesterday’s report.

“We can sell dangerous surveillance systems to police or we can stand up for what’s right. We can’t do both.” – Anonymous Amazon employee

“Most key data systems supporting immigration enforcement at DHS are either hosted on commercial cloud providers or being migrated to them. This facilitates massive info-sharing with local, state, and other federal law enforcement agencies, as well as the bilateral info-sharing agreements with countries such as Mexico.

“The government’s move towards cloud services has been the result of the ‘cloud industrial complex’— a public-private partnership among industry lobbyists, tech executives, key federal legislators, and tech executives-turned-government officials.”

Amazon’s Rekognition Software Performance Flaws

study by the ACLU found that Rekognition incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress, identifying them as other people who have been arrested for a crime.

The members of Congress who were falsely matched with the mugshot database used in the test included Republicans and Democrats, men and women, and legislators of all ages, from all across the country.

Nearly 40% of Rekognition’s false matches in the test were of people of color, even though they made up only 20% of Congress.

This same software is being used by immigration authorites and police to identify “undesirables.”

On the other hand, Palantir is “building ICE’s case management software which consists of tech that allows immigration agents to scour regional, local, state, and federal databases across the country, build profiles of immigrants and their friends and family based on both private and public information, and use those profiles to surveil, track, and ultimately deport immigrants,” according to the report.

Palantir’s Spying Scandals

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Back in 2009 an ex-Secret Service agent named Peter Cavicchia III ran special ops for JP Morgan in which he used Palantir’s software to spy on everyone in the company as part of his duty of forensic investigations at the bank.

Employees caught on and some even inserted fake information in their personal correspondances to see if Cavicchia would bring it up in the next meeting… and he did!

Not even senior bank executives were saved from the company-wide spying that went on at JP Morgan after Cavicchia allegedly went “rogue” using Palantir’s algorithms.

As Bloomberg reported in April of this year, “An intelligence platform designed for the global War on Terror was weaponized against ordinary Americans at home.”

In the same article Bloomberg reported that a former computer engineer for Cambridge Analytica “testified in the British Parliament that a Palantir employee had helped Cambridge Analytica use the personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users to develop psychographic profiles of individual voters.” Again, Palantir claimed that he had gone rogue and “worked with Cambridge Analytica on his own time.”

When it came to Palantir’s competition in the early days, I2 software company accused Palantir “of misappropriating its intellectual property through a Florida shell company registered to the family of a Palantir executive,” Shyam Sankar.

Another scandal took place in 2010 where Palantir was allegedly involved in working with the US Chamber of Commerce to run a secret sabotage campaign against the group’s liberal opponents, which included spying on the families of progressive activists.

Want to take a guess what Palantir said of its involvement? You guessed it. “It was the work of a single rogue employee.”

As the anonymous Amazon employee wrote last week, “Amazon talks a lot about values of leadership. If we want to lead, we need to make a choice between people and profits. We can sell dangerous surveillance systems to police or we can stand up for what’s right. We can’t do both.”

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Tim Hinchliffe
Tim Hinchliffe is a veteran journalist whose passions include writing about how technology impacts society and Artificial Intelligence. He prefers writing in-depth, interesting features that people actually want to read. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Ghanaian Chronicle in West Africa, and Colombia Reports in South America. tim@sociable.co