Brexit: Anger as US firm involved in detention of child migrants to run ‘border operations centre’

Palantir must 'ensure the technology they are providing in no way contributes to abuses in the UK’, government told

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 01 December 2020 11:54 GMT
Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?

A firm involved in the detention of child migrants in the US will help run a new operations centre to ease post-Brexit border chaos, triggering an outcry.

Amnesty International and the Liberal Democrats hit out at Michael Gove after he picked Palantir – widely criticised over Donald Trump’s “human rights violations of asylum-seekers and migrants” – for his multimillion-pound unit.

The centre will use cutting-edge software to minimise the enormous disruption and lorry-queues expected when the UK leaves the single market and customs union on 1 January.

But that technology, pulling together data from various government computers to monitor the flow of people and vehicles and identify hold-ups, will be provided by Palantir.

Its technology was used by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to arrest the parents of unaccompanied children at the US border – leading to their detention, Amnesty says.

ICE has also used it to plan mass raids and carry out arrests of migrants and asylum-seekers, again leading to children’s separation from their parents, the human rights group says.

Matt Mahmoudi, Amnesty’s researcher on artificial intelligence, said: “Palantir is a troubling choice of service provider for the UK Government, particularly in regards to immigration services given the controversy surrounding its involvement in the US immigration system.

“It’s absolutely vital that Palantir demonstrate human rights due diligence to ensure the technology they are providing in no way contributes to abuses in the UK. They singularly failed to demonstrate that in the US.”

And Layla Moran, the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesperson, said: “Ministers are clearly not only involved in awarding dodgy contracts to their friends, but now they are giving contracts out to firms with serious questions about their involvement with human rights abuses.

“People were rightly horrified by the actions of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency back in 2018, when images of families separated at the border and children sheltered in cages were revealed.”

Palantir was co-founded by Peter Thiel, the PayPal billionaire and a vocal supporter of Mr Trump, the defeated US president.

The criticism came as the Road Haulage Association warned it was too late to prevent the end of the transition period being at best “shambolic” – and, at worst, “catastrophic”.

“Business is not ready for Brexit. It’s not their fault, but I suspect they’re being lined up for the blame,” its managing director Rod McKenzie told Times Radio.

“The best case scenario is it will be shambolic. Worst case scenario is it will be catastrophic, supply chains stop.”

Mr Gove has promised the UK will have the “world’s most effective border” by 2025, but queues of thousands of lorries across Kent are likely next month.

He said: “At the end of the year we will take back control of our borders and that’s why we have set up the new Border Operations Centre to monitor and analyse flows of goods and people into the UK in real time.

“This will help us tackle challenges quickly and decisively, and give us increased information which will make us safer and more secure.”

Few other details were revealed, but new Border Flow Service software, gathering information about movements of goods and passengers, will be at the heart of it.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in