Tech activists continue to organize and win across many of the industry’s biggest firms—and increasingly the online spaces tech workers gather are becoming battlegrounds in their own right. Take Palantir’s Github page this morning, for example: Starting around 10am ET, concerned users plan to mass flag “issues” with the most popular repositories the company maintains.
Palantir—a data company named for the seeing stones from the Lord of the Rings trilogy—has attracted increasing scrutiny as the ghoulish details of Trump’s family separation policy are uncovered. Documents recently obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and reported by the Intercept revealed earlier this month that the company obscured its relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
There are two main wings of ICE—Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). The former handles criminal cases, while the latter’s mandate includes civil deportations. But the two factions of ICE are not always so separate. And yet, in what could generously be called a misrepresentation, a Palantir spokesperson told the New York Times late last year, “We do not work for ERO.”
As the Intercept wrote:
A May 2017 ICE document on an impending “Unaccompanied Alien Children Human Smuggling Disruption Initiative,” characterized as “a joint effort of ERO and HSI,” makes explicit the fact that ERO used Palantir’s Investigative Case Management software to target the parents and other relatives of unaccompanied minors crossing the border — a precursor to the Trump administration’s family separation policy.
The document makes clear that the operation would directly target the parents and other family members of children apprehended at the border — all with the help of Palantir’s case management app.
Palantir has yet to issue a statement about this discrepancy, and it has not replied to a request for comment from Gizmodo either. While we wait, activists associated with the Tech Workers Coalition have opted to flood Palantir’s repositories in order to make this information unavoidable for the company’s own workers.
Raising an issue on the collaborative software repositories of Github is an option open to any user, and is usually for the purpose of reporting a bug or requesting a feature. “The issue we are planning to raise is obvious a moral issue and an ethical issue with Palantir’s ties to ICE,” TWC’s Noah Gordon told Gizmodo. “This is an appeal from tech workers to tech workers to take a principled stand against family separation and deportation.”
“We believe Palantir has certain policies when it comes to maintenance of their open-source repositories, so Palantir employees will have to manually review these issues,” Gordon continued, “Our belief is if we put the honest facts of the situation directly in the face of Palantir workers they will follow up by making the right decision at work and organizing against ICE.”
That coordinating an act of protest against family separations would require pulling in workers on Mother’s Day weekend is, according to TWC members, entirely coincidental.
In the sickening treatment of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers at our southern border, it was recently revealed that our government did not have the data or resources to reunite the families it had torn apart. ICE’s crusade against the undocumented reached a fever pitch last summer, when reporting showed the organization keeping children in what were essentially cages.
Github previously became a flashpoint of tech activism last month when exhausted workers in China used the site to crowdsource a list of the country’s worst employers—specifically those that engaged in the so-called “996” culture, meaning a grueling 9am-to-9pm schedule, six days a week. U.S. workers stood with their Chinese counterparts after a number of the county’s web browsers began blocking access to the repo.
Tech workers seeking greater autonomy over their own work and the agreements their companies sign onto have had varying levels of success thus far. Many major victories have come out of Google, where objectors have won an end to forced arbitration clauses in employee contracts, better benefits for temporary contract workers, and pressured leadership into dropping an unpopular contract with the Pentagon. Organized contingents of activist-workers at other companies, Palantir among them, have yet to emerge for one reason or another. “I don’t have a good indication if there’s a faction within Palantir,” Gordon said, “but my gut tells me that there are moral people working at Palantir, that there are people who do not support family separation.”