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Palantir Renews U.S. Immigration Contract Despite Protests

Lizette Chapman

(Bloomberg) -- Palantir Technologies Inc. agreed to extend a contract to provide U.S. immigration authorities with data-mining software, dismissing concerns from activists who say the technology enables unethical policies, including the separation of migrant families.

The contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement will continue through 2022, according to a redacted document made public this week. The value of the deal wasn’t disclosed. The agreement strengthens a longstanding relationship, wherein immigration officials use Palantir’s data management software to build profiles on people.

Peter Thiel, the billionaire supporter of President Donald Trump, is a founder and primary backer of Palantir. The privately held company got its start working with U.S. intelligence agencies and also counts the Defense Department among its major clients. Officials have described the software as an essential investigative tool.

Palantir is the only company capable of upgrading its own software, and switching providers at this point would be an extremely costly prospect, the immigration agency wrote in the document. For those reasons, the contract extension would be seen as routine in a less politically charged environment. Yet, Alphabet Inc.’s Google faced a similar decision last year, when employees fiercely opposed a project to provide artificial intelligence tools to the U.S. military. Workers said Google was effectively supplying a weapon, and the company decided to let the contract lapse.

Although Palantir hasn’t faced a major protest from its workers, activists have taken up the cause. Picketers from the Latino advocacy group Mijente and other organizations swarmed the company’s headquarters in Palo Alto, California, last week, the latest in a months-long campaign against the company.

Alex Karp, the chief executive officer of Palantir, has said companies have a civic duty to defend American interests. Thiel, meanwhile, called for a federal investigation of Google for its decision to abandon the military project while maintaining a presence in China. The White House said it looked into the matter and found nothing of concern. A spokeswoman for Palantir didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lizette Chapman in San Francisco at lchapman19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Mark Milian at mmilian@bloomberg.net, Anne VanderMey

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