Although he talked about the idea a number of times during the election campaign, Donald Trump hasn’t said whether he is actually planning a “Muslim registry,” or some other way of tracking immigrants with an Islamic background. But according to some recently released documents, the underpinnings of such a system may already exist, thanks to a company called Palantir.
Palantir is a highly secretive and somewhat controversial startup founded and controlled by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, now a senior adviser to the next president. Named after the far-seeing orbs used by wizards in the Lord of the Rings stories, Palantir is a data-analytics company that does work for agencies like the NSA and the FBI.
According to documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the $20 billion company is already working closely with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency on a system that tracks citizens and determines whether they are a risk.
The system, known as the Analytical Framework for Intelligence, pulls data from a host of federal, state, and local law-enforcement databases to create profiles of individuals, including personal details, travel histories, and even social relationships. It also allows border guards and intelligence agents to cross-reference data and theoretically detect patterns of behavior.
This kind of data analysis is Palantir’s bread-and-butter, according to those familiar with the work of the secretive startup. And the name of the Thiel company appears regularly throughout the documents that EPIC received as a result of a lawsuit, implying that much of the threat modeling and other analysis uses Palantir’s technology.
What the EPIC documents suggest is that President Trump might not even have to create a specific thing called a Muslim registry—U.S. immigration and border-security agencies have already built something that can effectively serve the same purpose if they want it to do so. And it just happens to be powered by a company that is controlled by the President’s senior technology adviser.
BITS AND BYTES
Uber ends self-driving car pilot in San Francisco. California’s Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday revoked the registrations of the ride-hailing company’s autonomous cars following reports of continual traffic violations. Uber subsequently said it would scrap its 16-car pilot program in the state until it could develop “workable statewide rules.” (Guardian, Fortune)
Yahoo email-scanning reflects new U.S. intelligence strategy. Yahoo’s surreptitious scanning of customers’ email messages is part of a push by U.S. intelligence officials to recast norms around the reasonableness of searches and seizures. At issue are legal interpretations of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which some U.S. officials say are too restrictive in today’s data-rich digital environment. (Reuters)
7-Eleven schools Amazon on drones. The convenience store chain partnered with drone startup Flirtey to deliver snacks, food, and medicine to a dozen customers in Reno, Nev. throughout November. The 7-Eleven drone delivery program made 77 drop-offs, whereas Amazon only succeeded in its first commercial drone delivery on December 7. (Fortune)
Google’s self-driving car unit and Honda to team up. Waymo, Google’s recently spun-out autonomous vehicle business, plans to integrate its technology into Japanese automaker Honda’s cars. The two companies are in formal talks to add Google’s sensors and software to the cars. (Fortune)
Disney joins Snapchat. The Walt Disney Company plans to create TV-style shows for Snapchat. Although the two companies did not disclose the financial terms of the deal, they said that Disney will control its own ad-selling on the platform, and that its first series will be a spinoff of ABC’s The Bachelor. (Reuters)
Smartphone virtual assistants are the future. Right now, smartphone owners use Siri, Cortana, and Google Now at least sporadically to verbally request directions, send texts, get information, or control their devices. But that practice will become much more common over the next four years, according to a new survey by IT research firm Gartner.
These assistants will take over the jobs now handled by myriad mobile apps, the researchers say. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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German Media Posts Photo of Berlin Terror Suspect With His Face Obscured by Jeff John Roberts
ONE MORE THING
Meet Fortune’s “Breakthrough Brands.” We surveyed 4,000 consumers about their favorite new companies to find out which ones resonate the most. Newcomers like Airbnb, Instagram, and Uber are among the 10 that came out on top. Most of the names on the list are—surprise, surprise—technology companies. (Fortune)