Brainstorm HealthBrainstorm DesignBrainstorm TechMost Powerful WomenCEO Initiative

Controversial Startup Palantir Denies Assisting ICE With Family Separations

December 11, 2019, 10:49 PM UTC

Big data analysis and security startup Palantir Technologies has not been working for the part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency that has enforced controversial child separations, despite criticism of the company’s work.

Border enforcement policy is carried out by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, or ERO. Instead, Palantir’s contract to provide its cutting-edge information analysis services is with a separate division of ICE called Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI, Ryan Beiermeister, lead product manager at Palantir, explained Wednesday at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

HSI is a “distinct group” that performs investigations of international criminal activities like drug trafficking and human trafficking, Beiermeister said. The unit has no responsibility for the controversial immigration enforcement actions taken by ICE, such as separating hundreds of migrant children from their parents at the border.

“Internally, we have a lot of conversations and we try to be incredibly thoughtful,” Beiermeister said at the conference. “We try to hold complexity. We try to see the nuance in today’s political environment and not rush to black and white thinking.”

Palantir was formed 15 years ago, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, to bring the latest data analytics software to bear on matters of national security and law enforcement. Investor Peter Thiel, an advisor to President Trump who made his fortune at PayPal, co-founded the company.

A report last year detailed alleged activities by tech companies including Palantir and Amazon that were said to be assisting ICE and its controversial hardline policies. The report was prepared by research firm Empower LLC and commissioned by the Latino and immigration rights organizations Mijente, the National Immigration Project, and the Immigrant Defense Project.

Palantir CEO Alex Karp has been outspoken in his belief that Silicon Valley companies should work with the U.S. government at a time when some startups and tech workers have argued that helping the Trump administration carry out some of its policies is immoral.

“In think our CEO has said many times that Silicon Valley shouldn’t be the people who are picking winners and losers,” Beiermeister said. “We live in a democracy. We want that democracy to be self-correcting.”

(Correction: This story was updated on Dec. 11 to correct that Palantir’s contract is with a division of ICE, not with another part of the Department of Homeland Security.)

More must-read stories from Fortune’s MPW Next Gen Summit:

Chanel Miller is more than “Emily Doe”
—The “blameless post mortem” and other techniques that spur innovation
Career pivots are daunting. Here’s how three powerful women made them work
—Goldman Sachs removed one word from recruiting materials and female hires soared
—Exclusive: Enterprise scion Chrissy Taylor to become car rental giant’s CEO
Keep up with the world’s most powerful women with
The Broadsheet newsletter.