On Monday, activists organized by the immigrant rights group Mijente are kicking off a week of protests ahead of Palantir’s public direct listing on September 29th.
The first protest, on Monday, will be in Palo Alto as a “Good riddance” celebration as the company is moving its headquarters from the Bay Area to Denver, Colorado. The second will be on Tuesday in Denver, meant to be an “unwelcome” protest at the new headquarters. On Wednesday, there will be a digital day of action spreading awareness of Palantir’s deportation contracts, and there will also be a street theater performance in New York City outside Palantir’s office there.
“These companies have all sorts of technologies, but we have centuries old traditions about how we tell stories or share the truth,” said Mijente field director Jacinta Gonzales in an interview. “We’ll be telling the story of Palantir’s trajectory, mapping out its work with ICE, its support for drone programs like Maven, and their work with corrupt governments across the world.”
Since Mijente launched the #NoTechForICE campaign in 2018 to investigate and end Palantir’s contracts with government agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security, the company has faced endless backlash.
Students have organized campaigns that have chilled its reception at former recruiter schools, academics have successfully had the company dropped as a sponsor of multiple conferences, and documents obtained through leaks or information requests have contradicted Palantir’s claims about its various partnerships. Internally, employees have confronted Palantir CEO Alex Karp over the company’s close relationship with ICE.
The protests surrounding Palantir’s key role in the detainment and deportation of immigrants and subsequent media coverage have become such a problem for Palantir that in documents filed before going public, themselves the impetus for this week’s protests, the company warned investors these were now risk factors.
In its S-1 filing, Palantir wrote that “criticism of our relationships with customers could potentially engender dissatisfaction among potential and existing customers, investors, and employees with how we address political and social concerns in our business activities.” On the risk factor of media coverage, Palantir warned that “we have attracted, and may continue to attract, significant attention from news and social media outlets, including unfavorable coverage and coverage that is not directly attributable to statements authorized by our leadership.”
Mijente has documented how Palantir has helped ICE target sponsors of immigrant children, plan and execute large-scale workplace raids, and escalate the Trump administration’s war on immigrants. It was only last year, after years of denials despite documentation suggesting otherwise, that Karp admitted to working with ICE’s deportation arm.
“Investing in this company is the same thing as investing in a military contractor,” said Gonzales. “Now that it’s a public company, there are more tools at our disposal to target it and apply pressure. The founders understand that and that’s why they’ve created a governance structure where they maintain control even if they face pushback from the public or investors. They just want to hold on to the secrecy of being a private company.”
All of these issues are on their own causes for concern. Palantir’s own efforts to cultivate relationships with police departments could, according to its own risk factors, amplify algorithms and datasets that “contain biased information” This becomes a problem when you consider how closely Palantir works with law enforcement—which has used technology to re-legitimize racist policing practices—but also its attempts to creep into other avenues such as healthcare with Britain’s National Health Service. Also noteworthy is Buzzfeed News’ recent revelation that Palantir co-founder Peter Thiel actively cultivated relationships with prominent white supremacists.
“They think they’re still going to be able to hide and avoid accountability,” Gonzales added. “But what they’re going to find out is that folks across the country, in every state, are actually really concerned about the human rights abuses conducted by ICE day to day. They’re willing to take a stand against the technology and data companies that are helping commit these abuses.”