Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, delivers a speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
Alex Wong—Getty Images
By Mathew Ingram
December 22, 2016

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.

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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.

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