To the Dean of Berkeley Engineering, EECS Chairs, Vice Chairs, and Leadership Personnel:
The student and staff population has been made aware of an info session on September 24, 2019 with John Grant, Director of Privacy and Civil Liberties Engineering at Palantir Technologies. Grant plans to speak about the history of engineers as "architects of freedom" as well as technology and then walk through a practical exercise in how to spot privacy and civil liberties issues in everyday technical decisions and design technical capabilities to address them. Grant's appropriation of the rhetoric of civil liberties fails to disguise the fact that his company's software facilitates violations of human rights by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Evidence gathered by Mijente has revealed Palantir to be a collaborator in the expansion of ICE violence against undocumented immigrants and communities. This year, Palantir was revealed to be involved in the arrests of at least 443 people--mothers, fathers, cousins, and other family members and sponsors who were arrested when ICE investigated children who crossed the border alone. Palantir was shown to be intimately involved in workplace raids, like the raids led by ICE this month that arrested almost 700 people in Mississippi-- the largest such raid in a decade. These raids have increased by 650% under President Trump, targeting thousands of people annually for arrest and deportation. The company has faced frequent protests and direct actions calling to shut down operations and drop ICE contracts at its headquarters this past year—from Palo Alto to New York—and internal worker demands that it stop facilitating ICE’s deportation machine.
We have also become aware that Palantir is a member of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department (EECS) Corporate Access Program, for which they pay the university $20,000 a year to gain special recruiting access to EECS students. We also consider this partnership to be a violation of the Inclusive Intelligence Initiative put forward in U.C. Berkeley’s December 11, 2018 Strategic Plan which calls for an approach to developing the technologies of Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Sensing (DAIRS) in a way that would ensure “… that the benefits are shared inclusively and democratically.” We, the undersigned students, faculty, and staff in EECS, together with our allies in the wider U.C. Berkeley community, consider a partnership with Palantir of any kind to be contrary to EECS’ commitment to produce technology with an eye toward ethical responsibility.
Allowing Palantir to recruit Berkeley EECS students undermines U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Christ's June 26 pledge to "remain steadfast in welcoming, supporting, and building community with our undocumented students and staff." Attempting to build a partnership of any kind with Palantir does not contribute to creating an inclusive academic environment in which everyone feels equally welcome and safe. Partnering with Palantir will create an atmosphere of heightened fear and self-censorship among vulnerable campus members. It sends a signal that certain campus members' individual academic freedom and access to funding is more important than the human rights and academic freedom of undocumented and immigrant scholars and their allies who are doing equally valuable research on campus.
We must focus on the impact of these pursuits on campus and throughout society. Actions outweigh intentions. Inviting Palantir onto campus amounts to institutional complicity in the violation of the human rights of immigrant communities. There is no amount of bureaucratic language or legal logic that can shield the EECS Department from the stakes and urgency of cutting ties with a company that is actively contributing to the human rights crisis facing immigrant communities at this moment.
As such, we demand that EECS stop participating in info-sessions with Palantir, and that it removes Palantir as a member of the CAP program. The university should not be legitimizing Palantir while it is in the business of deportation, nor should it profit from a company that is itself profiting from the administration’s immigration crackdown. Our support of the company polishes its image and undermines efforts to resist the deportation regime. U.C. Berkeley must cut its ties, given the University's stated support for undocumented students and its location in Berkeley, California, the first sanctuary city in the nation. In order to uphold its upholding legacy of free speech and academic freedom, U.C. Berkeley must cut ties with Palantir.
We would not be the first. On our campus in June, the Privacy Law Scholars Conference decided to terminate its relationship with Palantir due to its contract with ICE. Lesbians Who Tech, an LGBTQ group of technologists, did the same in August, as did the Grace Hopper Celebration, the largest conference for female technologists in the world. If these institutions can take the step to break off ties with Palantir, so can EECS and UC Berkeley.
We, thus, encourage U.C. Berkeley students, faculty, staff, alumni, and broader community members in agreement to sign Cal Bears Against ICE's petition and Mijente's petition demanding that UC Berkeley's Department of EECS cancel its info-session and corporate access partnership with Palantir.