Palantir, the data-mining firm co-founded by tech billionaire and Trump transition adviser Peter Thiel, has provided largely secret assistance to the US Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) in operating a system that tracks and assesses immigrants and other travelers, according to public records. Known as the Analytical Framework for Intelligence, the system draws from a variety of federal, state, and local law enforcement databases that gather and analyze often-sensitive details about people, including biographical information, personal associations, travel itineraries, immigration records, and home and work addresses, as well as fingerprints, scars, tattoos, and other physical traits.
CBP lends out access credentials for the Analytical Framework for Intelligence (AFI) to other law enforcement agencies, including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, the country's primary deportation force. Though little is understood by the public, the Palantir-linked system could represent a powerful and far-reaching tool in Trump's quest to limit migration into the country.
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"When Trump uses the term 'extreme vetting', AFI is the black-box system of profiling algorithms that he's talking about," says Edward Hasbrouck of the Identity Project, a civil liberties initiative that focuses on the rights of travelers. "This is what extreme vetting means."
Dozens of heavily redacted references to Palantir appear in AFI documents that the Electronic Privacy Information Center obtained through a lawsuit.
AFI was implemented in August 2012 as an analytical superstructure and search engine to overlay some of the government's largest databases of personal and travel information. According to a recent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) oversight report, federal agents can use AFI for a broad range of purposes, such as enforcing immigration laws and assisting field agents "in preventing the illegal entry of people and goods" into the country.
In a 2012 report, DHS highlights AFI's ability allow agents to search information across varied databases, but Hasbrouck emphasizes that AFI's most notable function might lay in what he says are top-secret algorithms that process personal data to assess travelers and would-be immigrants. This helps federal authorities determine a person's eligibility to travel into — or even within — the United States, Hasbrouck says.