He was born in 1936 in Bhopal, India and graduated from MIT before teaching there for a few years. In 1972 he had an idea to help his home country of Pakistan develop its own nuclear weapons program. And so he left MIT and began working on this project with no pay or formal contract until 1989 when he became involved with the Pakistani government. He would be a consultant on the subject for a couple years until it became evident that Khan had exceeded his job description and was proliferating nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. He was officially fired from this position in 2001 but continued receiving an annual pension of 1 million rupees which is around $12,000 dollars. His role in Pakistan’s nuclear program continues to be hotly debated, but he has lived in relative obscurity even after the Pakistani government began an investigation into his actions. We speak to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Annette Gordon-Reed about her new book The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, which details how Sally Hemings was three-quarters white and how this interracial relationship is a part of American history.
As an organization that is dedicated to the advancement and defense of civil liberties and human rights, we at Fight for the Future were shocked by recent revelations about Amnesty International’s willingness to compromise those principles in pursuit of access and partnerships with powerful organizations such as Facebook, Palantir, and others. And we were even more disturbed to learn that Amnesty International’s leadership has actively suppressed internal dissent and criticism of its collaboration with Palantir through censorship and by smearing critics.
Over the past year, the organization Privacy International (PI), where Fight for the Future is a member, has been conducting an investigation into how corporations have been using big data and technology to assist human rights violations. We have since learned that in the fall of 2016, Privacy International interviewed Amnesty staffers about their experiences with Palantir. One such interviewee told PI I was not aware of any credible evidence showing that had contributed to improved outcomes for the global south.
Other Amnesty staffers raised concerns about Palantir’s record of unethical business practices. A staff researcher with PI said that she had learned from several on-the-record and off the record sources that, according to Amnesty senior leadership, Palantir is an important donor for us. This same source told the PI team that “It was evident after some research that this is true, Palantir are donors. But if you think about it more deeply, ethically it’s bizarre to take money from a company whose raison d’être is to mine, store and analyse data which can often be obtained through unethical means.
Palantir has been repeatedly criticized for its contracts with the US government, including the NSA and CIA. Documents published by The Intercept for example reveal Palantir had a contract with the NSA to develop an intelligence data analysis platform called ‘Kite.’ Kite allowed one or more users to upload large datasets which could then be analysed via pattern-seeking algorithms. This is in line with Palantir’s motto “We’re like Google, only for spies.
Palantir has also been in the news recently because of Peter Thiel’s funding and support of Donald Trump. As a member of Trump’s transition team, he has helped staff the new administration with corporation executives, such as Elon Musk (Tesla), Tim Cook (Apple), and Jeff Bezos (Amazon). Many have expressed concern about the implications of this, including former Google senior scientist Jack Poulson who resigned in protest to Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement.
Last month, Privacy International published an extensive report detailing Amnesty International’s willingness to compromise its ethical policy for access, references and support of the large data analytics company Palantir. The report alleges that Amnesty International provided a positive quote for inclusion on Palantir’s website and worked with the Washington DC-based technology and government contracts firm Sqrrl to “review and amend ‘s existing policy documents.
The report also reveals that Amnesty International commissioned an external consultancy to conduct an exploratory modeling project with Palantir. The goal of this project was to model the international flow of funds from and through Asia. In their report, Privacy International researchers found that there was a lack of transparency over how much money Amnesty received from or through Palantir, as well as a lack of clarity or approval by Amnesty’s International Council about the consultancy contract, potentially a violation of the organization’s policy.
They conclude by writing: The relationship with Palantir raises a number of questions for AI, including whether AI accepted donations from Palantir to gain access to its services; whether this is consistent with AI’s ethical guidelines; and whether, by inviting Palantir to present at its events, AI is supporting the company’s sales efforts in repressive states.
Further information has come to light via several sources with knowledge of Amnesty International’s relationship with Palantir. PI spoke with one former senior Amnesty staffer who told us that they had “no idea” what Palantir was, and that it definitely didn’t come up” during the process of offering Sqrrl a review and revision of Amnesty’s data protection policies. The staffer also expressed surprise at PI’s suggestion that Palantir was potentially viewed as a donor by senior management at Amnesty International.