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Peter Thiel’s data-mining firm could help Trump vet and deport immigrants

Published Dec 22nd, 2016 3:31PM EST
Donald Trump deportation
Image: Evan Vucci/AP/REX/Shutterstock

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While policy wasn’t exactly the primary focus of Trump’s campaign, he did make several direct promises to the American people while he was running for president. One of the most common refrains was that he would overhaul the vetting process and deport millions of undocumented immigrants, but without providing any specifics, many of his critics understandably questioned his ability to accomplish this goal.

Trump’s promises might have been empty ones, but newly released documents show that Palantir—the data-mining technology firm founded by Trump transition team member (and Gawker public enemy number one) Peter Thiel—has been secretly helping US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) by building and operating a system called the Analytical Framework for Intelligence (AFI) that tracks and analyzes immigrants.

According to the documents, the AFI has access to information from federal, state and local law enforcement databases, which includes names, addresses, known associates, all the way down to scars and tattoos.

Other law enforcement agencies can gain access to the AFI, including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, which happens to be the group responsible for deporting undocumented immigrants and immigrants have who committed crimes.

Everything you just read might still be under wraps had the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) not gotten its hands on the documents through a lawsuit. While much of the information within the documents has been redacted, there are dozens of references to Thiel’s startup throughout, making it clear that the company is heavily involved in the process of identifying and analyzing immigrants and visitors to the US.

“AFI generates risk assessments for travellers,” John Tran, an attorney with EPIC involved in the lawsuit, told The Verge. “But we don’t know how the scores are being generated and what the factors are. What if there’s an error? Users should have an opportunity to correct the error, users should have an opportunity to understand what goes into generating the score.”

Whether or not Trump’s plans to instate a “Muslim registry” or mass deport millions of immigrants ever come to fruition remains to be seen, but it’s now clear that has the means to get the ball rolling, at the very least.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.