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Citing Palantir’s ICE contracts, students protest campus talk

Credit: Nora Mattson/Editor-in-Chief Credit: Nora Mattson/Editor-in-Chief

This past Wednesday, a group of students gathered outside Palantir’s tech talk, held in the Gates-Hillman Center’s Rashid Auditorium. Some students came to participate in the recruitment event, others were there to join the national #NoTechForICE movement by protesting the recruitment event.

The No Tech For ICE movement, spearheaded by activist group Mijente, has sparked protests at UC Berkeley, Brown, and Yale, resulting in the cancellation of Palantir information sessions at Berkeley and a "pause" in Palantir’s on-campus recruitment at Brown.

Analytics company Palantir has built two tools for ICE, the Investigative Case Management (ICM) tool and FALCON. The ICM system, renewed for around $50 million in Aug. is used for managing and linking case information, while FALCON searches and visualizes several law enforcement databases.

In a statement to The New York Times, Palantir said the tools were meant for the national security-focused Homeland Security Investigation branch of ICE and not the enforcement-focused Enforcement and Removal Operations, but Carnegie Mellon protesters point to uses of the tools in workplace raids and logging interactions with unaccompanied minors. Palantir did not respond to The Tartan's request for comment.

Carnegie Mellon masters student Bonnie Fan launched a petition over two weeks ago, asking students to stop interviewing for positions at Palantir while the company is working with ICE. Kevin Geng, a junior in computer science made a post on the Facebook group Overlooked at Carnegie Mellon, where students highlight social justice issues on campus, suggesting that he would stand outside of the Palantir event to alert potential attendees about the company's involvement with ICE.

Tuesday evening, the day before the talk was scheduled to take place, student organizers met to figure out what kind of action might take place. A Facebook event circulated that night, linking articles about protests at other universities, as well as Fan’s petition.

Though the protest circulated through the channels of campus activist organizations, according to Fan, the event was carried out by a coalition of students who were concerned about "larger issues around recruitment." Fan says that there are people who want to think about social impacts of recruiters around campus, but "there isn't really a space for that."

Carnegie Mellon spokesperson Jason Maderer emailed a statement to The Tartan that highlighted the first amendment rights of all involved, saying "the university supports both the rights of the students protesting and those who wish to consider employment with a particular employer. We worked with the sponsoring department about this week’s event in order to allow for freedom of expression, engagement, and exchange of ideas."

While Palantir held open “office hours” for students, protesters handed out flyers in Spanish and English in the entryway to the Gates Center off of the Pausch Bridge. Once the tech talk began, the protesters moved outside the fourth-floor auditorium where it was held, moving outside of the fourth-floor Forbes Avenue entryway to give speeches.

Alisar Mustafa, a masters student who helped organize the protest, was surprised that people showed up, given that the protests had largely been planned the night before. She believes that the fact that the protests speak “specifically to ICE and deportation” might make them more accessible to the large international population at Carnegie Mellon.

“It’s hard to draw the line,” said organizer and masters student, Brian Rhindress, to identify employers meriting protest since Carnegie Mellon draws many big recruiters involved in defense and law enforcement. However, Rhindress says, while there are a lot of students parsing which employers meet their ethical standards, there are “a lot of students who just don’t know.”

Palantir’s tech talk itself centered around a demonstration of one of Palantir’s software platforms in the scenario of a fictionalized automobile recall. Palantir security asked attendees to refrain from taking photos or tweeting during the event.

The first several questions in the Q and A portion of the event came from protesters. Atahan Kiliccote, a sophomore in Mechanical Engineering, asked about the use of Palantir's FALCON platform in ICE raids. Responses from Palantir recruiters focused on the distinction between working with the investigative and enforcement branches of ICE, and the internal discussion process that led to the choice to continue working with ICE.

Eventually, one of the attendees asked about the difference between the kinds of engineers at the company, and the discussion moved to more standard fare. Soon thereafter, the question portion ended, and the recruiters invited interested students to the front to network.

Atahan Kiliccote, mentioned in this article, is also a staffwriter at The Tartan.