Seeing stones: pandemic unearths Palantir’s troubling achieve in Europe

The 24 March, 2021 might be remembered through some for the scoop that Prince Charles examined sure for Covid and was once separating in Scotland. In Athens it was once memorable because the day the visitors went silent. Twenty-four hours into a difficult lockdown, Greeks have been acclimatising to a brand new fact wherein they needed to ship an SMS to the federal government to be able to depart the home. In addition to thousands and thousands of textual content messages, the Greek executive confronted unusual dilemmas. The Ecu Union’s maximum inclined economic system, its oldest inhabitants together with Italy, and one of its weakest well being methods confronted the primary wave of a virus that beaten richer nations with fewer pensioners and more potent well being provision. The carnage in Italy loomed massive around the Adriatic.

One Greek who did move into the administrative center that day was once Kyriakos Pierrakakis, the minister for virtual transformation, whose signature was once inked in blue on an settlement with the United States era corporate, Palantir. The deal, which might now not be printed to the general public for any other nine months, gave one of the sector’s maximum arguable tech firms get entry to to huge quantities of private information whilst providing its device to assist Greece climate the Covid typhoon. The zero-cost settlement was once now not registered at the public procurement device, neither did the Greek executive perform an information affect overview – the mandated take a look at to look whether or not an settlement would possibly violate privateness rules.

The questions that emerge in pandemic Greece echo the ones from throughout Europe all through Covid and display Palantir extending into sectors from well being to policing, aviation to trade or even academia. A months-long joint investigation through the Mother or father, Lighthouse Experiences and Der Spiegel used freedom of knowledge rules, authentic correspondence, confidential resources and reporting in more than one nations to piece in combination the Ecu actions of one of essentially the most secretive firms on the planet. The findings elevate severe questions over the best way public businesses paintings with Palantir and whether or not its device can paintings inside the bounds of Ecu rules within the delicate spaces the place it’s getting used, or carry out in the best way the corporate guarantees.

Greece was once now not the one nation tempted through a Covid-related unfastened trial. Palantir was once already embedded within the NHS, the place a no-bid contract valued at £1 was once simplest printed after information privateness campaigners threatened to take the United Kingdom executive to court docket. When that trial length was once over the price of proceeding with Palantir got here in at £24m.

The corporate has additionally been shriveled as a part of the Netherlands’ Covid reaction and pitched no less than four different Ecu nations, in addition to a grab of EU businesses. The Palantir one-pager that Germany’s well being ministry launched after a freedom of knowledge request described Europe as the corporate’s “focal point of actions”.

Based in California in 2003, Palantir would possibly not had been cold-calling round Ecu governments. It has, every now and then, had a uniquely tough industry construction best friend within the type of the United States executive.

On 23 March, the EU’s Centre for Illness Keep an eye on (ECDC) gained an e mail from their opposite numbers at the United States CDC, extolling their paintings with Palantir and pronouncing the corporate had requested for an creation.

Palantir stated it was once standard follow for a few of its “executive consumers to function reference for different potential consumers”. It stated the ECDC became down its invitation “out of outrage of a chance of the touch being perceived as prejudicing ECDC’s independence”.

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A Palantir banner outdoor the New York Inventory Alternate at the day of its preliminary public providing on 30 September, 2021. {Photograph}: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

The Greek executive has declined to mention the way it was once presented to Palantir. However there have been senior-level hyperlinks between Palantir, the Trump management and the Greek executive. The USA ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt, has spoken publicly of the contacts between Pierrakakis and Michael Kratsios, a Greek-American and leader era adviser to then-president, Donald Trump. Kratsios joined the White Area from a job as leader of body of workers to Peter Thiel, the billionaire Silicon Valley tech investor and founding father of Palantir.

When information of Greece’s courting with Palantir was once disclosed, it was once now not through executive officers or native media however through ambassador Pyatt. A teleconference adopted in December between Greece’s high minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and Palantir CEO Alex Karp, the place the latter spoke of “deepening cooperation” between them.

Reporters who requested for a duplicate of the settlement have been refused and it took opposition MPs to drive disclosure by the use of parliament. The tone then unexpectedly modified.

Eleftherios Chelioudakis, an information coverage attorney and member of virtual rights team Homo Digitalis, was once a few of the first folks to learn the two-page report and was once surprised through what he discovered. It perceived to give Palantir out of the ordinary get entry to to information of precisely the dimensions and sensitivity that would appear to require an affect overview. Worse, a revision of the settlement one week after the primary deleted any connection with the want to “pseudonymise” the information – to forestall it being relatable to precise folks. This seems to be in breach of the Normal Information Coverage Law (GDPR), the EU regulation in position since 2021 that governs how the private knowledge of folks residing within the EU may also be amassed and processed. Palantir says that, to its wisdom, processing was once restricted to “open-source pandemic and high-level Greek state-owned demographic information immediately related to managing the Covid-19 disaster”.

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The Greek high minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis (centre), and the minister of virtual governance, Kyriakos Pierrakakis (left), chat with the United States ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt (proper), in Thessaloniki, Greece, in September 2021. {Photograph}: Kostas Tsironis/EPA

The Greek executive has denied sharing affected person information with Palantir, claiming that the device was once used to provide the high minister a dashboard summarising key information all through the pandemic. Alternatively, the contract, observed through the Mother or father, particularly refers to classes of knowledge that may be processed and contains non-public information. It additionally features a clause that has come to be referred to as an “growth clause”. Those clauses, recognized within the uncommon examples of Palantir contracts launched in solution to freedom of knowledge requests, had been studied through Privateness World, a privateness watchdog in the United Kingdom. “The development clauses in Palantir’s contracts, along with the loss of transparency, are relating to as it allows Palantir to strengthen its merchandise in accordance with its consumers’ use of the Palantir merchandise,” stated Privateness World’s Caitlin Bishop.

The corporate rejects this studying in their actions and states: “Palantir does now not teach algorithms on buyer information for Palantir’s personal receive advantages or to commercialise and promote to Palantir’s different consumers.”

“We don’t accumulate, mine, or promote non-public information from or for our consumers,” it stated, including: “Palantir does now not use its consumers’ information to construct, deploy, switch, resell, or repurpose device finding out or synthetic intelligence fashions or ‘algorithms’ to different consumers.”

Greece’s information coverage authority has since introduced an investigation. The federal government says it has ended cooperation with Palantir and that each one information has been deleted.

Lord of the Rings mystique

Even through the criteria of Silicon Valley tech firms, Palantir has been an outlier in making a mythology round itself. The identify is taken from the tough and threatening “seeing stones” in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Its management steadily claims the mantle of defenders of the western realm. Early workers forged themselves as courageous hobbits and one of Thiel’s co-founders wrote about his departure from the corporate in a put up entitled “leaving the Shire”.

However Palantir polarised opinion in the United States sooner than the backlash towards giant tech. Its critics don’t focal point at the fortune its founder Thiel made with PayPal or as an early investor in Fb however on his enhance for Trump. Palantir has confronted protests in the United States over its function in facilitating the Trump management’s mass deportation of undocumented migrants via its contract with US immigration enforcement company ICE.

Palantir was once additionally reported to had been keen on discussions over a marketing campaign of disinformation and cyberattacks directed towards WikiLeaks and newshounds corresponding to Glenn Greenwald. It later insisted that the venture was once by no means implement and stated its affiliation with smear techniques had “served as a teachable second”.

And Palantir was once prepared to step in on the Pentagon after Google workers rebelled over its involvement in Undertaking Maven, which seeks to make use of AI in battlefield focused on.

Till Palantir undertook a public record in September closing yr, somewhat little was once identified about its consumer checklist past services and products to the United States army, border enforcement and intelligence businesses.

Media protection of Palantir has been formed through its odd protagonists in addition to its nationwide safety purchasers. The corporate’s CEO is Alex Karp, who studied in Germany at Frankfurt College underneath the influential thinker Jürgen Habermas, and steadily makes company bulletins in philosophical language in unconventional clothes or places. His most up-to-date message was once tweeted from a snowy wooded area.

(*12*)(*15*)(*20*) Palantir CEO Alex Karp

Palantir’s CEO Alex Karp. {Photograph}: Thibault Camus/AP

Rumours over Palantir’s imaginable involvement [with the CIA] within the operation to seek out Osama bin Weighted down had been met with coy non-denials.

The vibrant backstory has added mystique to an organization which, when it indexed at the New York inventory trade, had simplest 125 consumers.

Why did Palantir meet Von Der Leyen?

Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch MEP, has tracked Palantir’s lobbying of Europe’s centres of energy. She notes the corporate’s odd “proximity to energy” and questions the way it was once that an EU delegation to Washington in 2021 met with US executive officers and simplest one personal corporate, Palantir. What was once mentioned, she sought after to grasp, when Karp met the president of the Ecu fee, Ursula von der Leyen or when Palantir met the then EU’s pageant commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, who’s now answerable for making the EU are compatible for the virtual age?

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EU fee president Ursula Von der Leyen (left) and govt vice-president of the Ecu Fee for A Europe Are compatible for the Virtual Age, Margrethe Vestager (proper), in Brussels, Belgium, on 19 February 2021. {Photograph}: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

In June 2021, In ‘t Veld despatched detailed inquiries to the fee and printed her issues in a blogpost headlined: “Palantir isn’t our buddy”. The fee took eight months to provide even partial solutions however the corporate emailed In ‘t Veld three days after she went public along with her questions, providing a gathering. She talked to them however questions why the corporate felt the want to touch “an obnoxious MEP” to reassure her.

In ‘t Veld characterises the fee’s eventual solutions as “evasive” with officers pronouncing no mins have been stored of the dialog between Von Der Leyen and Karp as it was once at the sidelines of the Global Financial Discussion board at Davos and so they already knew each and every different.

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Member of Ecu Parliament, Sophie in ‘t Veld, at Ecu parliament headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. {Photograph}: Wiktor Dąbkowski/ZUMA Press/Alamy

“There’s one thing that doesn’t upload up right here between the circumventing of procurement practices, conferences on the best possible point of presidency,” stated In ‘t Veld, “there’s much more underneath the outside than a easy device corporate.”

For its section, Palantir says it’s “now not an information corporate” and all information it interacts with is “amassed, owned, and regulated through the purchasers themselves, now not through Palantir.” The corporate says “it is very important to maintain elementary ideas of privateness and civil liberties whilst the use of information” and that Palantir does now not construct algorithms off its consumers’ information in any shape however supplies device platforms that function the central working methods for all kinds of private and non-private sector establishments.

Palantir stated: “We construct device merchandise to assist our consumers combine and perceive their very own information, however we don’t accumulate, dangle, mine, or monetize information on our personal. After all, our engineers is also required to engage with some buyer information when they’re at buyer websites, however we don’t seem to be within the industry of accumulating, keeping up, or promoting information.”

Europol entanglement

Covid has been the instance for a brand new industry pressure however Palantir didn’t arrive in Europe with the pandemic. It has additionally discovered alternatives in Ecu worry of terrorism and its sense of technological inferiority to Silicon Valley.

When well being issues are using industry, the device product Palantir sells is Foundry; when terrorism fears are opening up budgets, it’s Gotham.

Foundry is constructed to satisfy the wishes of industrial purchasers. Certainly one of its champions in Europe is Airbus, which says the device has helped establish provide chain efficiencies. Foundry has extra just lately discovered its means into governments, and Palantir’s CEO, Karp, has known as Foundry an “working device for governments”.

Gotham has lengthy been utilized by intelligence services and products in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark and France and was once constructed for investigative research. Some Palantir engineers name what it does “needle-in-haystack” research that businesses can use to search for unhealthy actors hiding in advanced networks.

Since 2021 Palantir has made a sustained pressure to embed itself by the use of Gotham in Europe’s police methods.

The primary primary alternative to try this got here on the EU’s regulation enforcement company, Europol, when it received a young to create a device to retailer and crunch the reams of knowledge from member states’ police forces. The Europol Research Device was once intended each to retailer thousands and thousands of things of knowledge – from felony information, to witness statements to police studies – and crunch this knowledge into actionable intelligence.

The settlement signed in December 2021 with the French multinational Capgemini, subcontracted the paintings to Palantir and Gotham.

Over the following three years, closely redacted Europol paperwork, received underneath freedom of knowledge rules, inform a tale of repeated delays, “low supply high quality” and “efficiency problems” associated with Gotham. Amid the blacked-out traces there’s point out of technical shortcomings such because the “incapacity to correctly visualize massive datasets”.

Through Would possibly 2021 the problems have been so entrenched that Europol agreed a agreement with Palantir, the phrases of which they’ve refused to divulge. Capgemini, the contractor which introduced in Palantir, additionally declined to remark.

It is usually transparent that Europol regarded as suing Palantir and Capgemini. In an inner briefing report forward of an October 2021 assembly of the organisation’s control board, it’s made transparent that litigation was once regarded as however rejected: “regardless of the efficiency problems recognized [litigation] is prone to result in pricey court docket complaints for which the end result is unsure.”

Palantir declined to touch upon those problems particularly however stated: “Any problems bobbing up at Europol had not anything to do with the device’s skill to satisfy GDPR or information coverage necessities, and have been only the results of a big, advanced device implementation with more than one stakeholders.”

The warning was once smartly instructed. Palantir has shape for suing massive public our bodies, together with the United States military, and successful.

When get entry to was once asked from Europol to all information with regards to contractual issues with Palantir, 69 paperwork have been recognized, however the EU company two times refused complete get entry to to 67 at the grounds of “public safety”. An attraction has been lodged with the Ecu ombudsman’s administrative center, a criticism that was once dominated admissible and a choice is pending.

The agreement didn’t disentangle Europol nevertheless it introduced the venture in-house and the trouble to make use of Gotham as an information repository was once deserted nevertheless it remained as the primary research part. In July 2021, a real-world trial of the device on counter-terrorism paintings discovered Gotham “affected by vital efficiency problems”. Palantir stated: “Any problems bobbing up at Europol had not anything to do with the device’s skill to satisfy GDPR or information coverage necessities, and have been only the results of a big, advanced device implementation with more than one stakeholders.”

Regardless of those problems, Palantir has gained €4m (£3.4m) from Europol.

The worries went past efficiency when the EU’s privateness watchdog, the Ecu information coverage manager, started inspections. Closely redacted copies in their studies in 2021 and 2021 sign in the inspectors’ fear that Gotham was once now not designed to be sure that the Europol analysts made it transparent how folks’s information had come to be entered into the device. The absence of this “non-public implication” intended the device may just now not be assured to tell apart whether or not any individual was once a sufferer, witness, informant or suspect in against the law. This raises the possibility of folks being falsely implicated in felony investigations or, on the very least, that their information would possibly not had been treated in compliance with information coverage rules.

Europol, as the information controller, stated that such information was once “handled with the best care”.

(*6*) The Europol building in The Hague, Netherlands.

The Europol construction in The Hague, Netherlands. {Photograph}: Eva Plevier/Reuters

‘The most up to date shit ever in policing’

In 2005, 15 Ecu nations signed a deal to spice up counter-terror efforts through exchanging DNA, fingerprints and car registration information. This ended in an IT purchasing spree as police government sought techniques to get their methods to speak to one another. Norway was once a latecomer when it signed up in 2009 however in 2021 a high-ranking delegation from the Norwegian police flew to Silicon Valley to satisfy Palantir. Once they returned the drive determined to arrange a extra far-reaching device to be known as Omnia, operating on Gotham.

The abrupt resolution stuck the eye of Ole Martin Mortvedt, a former senior police officer nearing retirement who was once modifying the nationwide police union’s in-house mag. When he began asking questions he discovered it not possible to ascertain who had long past to Silicon Valley and why the venture have been expanded. The one consultant of Palantir whom he may just communicate to in Norway was once a somewhat junior attorney.

A pissed off Mortvedt began calling his former pupils from the police academy the place he taught for a few years who have been now in mid-ranking positions within the police. Over the following three years, his police resources described a litany of neglected cut-off dates.

“The ones individuals who went to Silicon Valley, they have been became round through what Palantir had to provide,” stated Mortvedt.

The device was once passed over in 2021 however remains to be now not purposeful. Palantir stated that the issues have been “now not a serve as of our collaboration and, to the most efficient of our wisdom, have their root reason somewhere else.”

The Norwegian police showed that Omnia has charge 93m Norwegian kroner, or moderately not up to €10m.

Palantir met Danish officers in Silicon Valley two years previous than their Norwegian opposite numbers. The Danes ended up purchasing Gotham for each the police and intelligence services and products as a part of a counter-terrorism pressure. Christian Svanberg, who would turn into the information coverage officer for the device, named POL-INTEL, stated he wrote the related law enabling POL-INTEL.

The soft, which was once made public, known as for a device with cross-cutting get entry to to present police and intelligence databases, knowledge trade with Europol and open-source number of new knowledge. It additionally foresaw the will for algorithms to supply development reputation and social media research.

It was once, in different phrases, a prescription for a predictive policing device, which distributors declare can assist police are expecting the place crimes will happen (place-based) and who would possibly dedicate them (person-based). Certainly one of Denmark’s district police chiefs known as it a “quantum bounce into trendy policing”.

Palantir stated it understood from the Danish police that they didn’t use POL-INTEL for predictive policing.

Danish government pronounce themselves proud of the efficiency of POL-INTEL however have up to now refused to unencumber an inner analysis or divulge information to permit any impartial overview of the consequences.

The police have refused to divulge even redacted variations of the interior reviews of POL-INTEL. Regardless of Danish insistence on privateness safeguards with POL-INTEL, the one identified inner overview of the device discovered that police customers have been the use of it to secret agent at the whereabouts of former Arsenal footballer, Nicklas Bendtner. Numerous law enforcement officials have been disciplined over the subject.

Norway and Denmark weren’t by myself within the enthusiasm in their senior police for predictive policing, the Germany state of Hesse bought a an identical instrument from Palantir in a young that the opposition within the state parliament regarded as to be so opaque {that a} committee of inquiry handled it.

A German police authentic accustomed to the advance of predictive equipment on the time says that senior officials had purchased into the hype: “What was once promoted three years in the past was once the freshest shit ever in policing. What we were given wasn’t what was once anticipated. You’ll be able to’t are expecting crime.”

The Internal Ministry in Hesse stated: “The Hessian police has had constantly sure studies in its cooperation with Palantir.”

A bunker in The Hague

Because the EU handed its GDPR law in 2021, atmosphere a world usual for the privateness rights of its voters, it has talked itself up as a protected haven the place virtual rights are secure as human rights. Whilst GDPR would possibly nonetheless be poorly understood and principally related to browser requests to just accept cookies, there’s a watchdog. The Ecu information coverage manager and his body of workers of 75 face the immense job of making sure that Ecu businesses and the personal firms they contract play through the principles. The manager himself is Polish attorney Wojciech Wiewiórowski, who led the inspections at Europol in the past. Predictably wary in his number of phrases, he stops wanting calling for arguable firms corresponding to Palantir to be refrained from delicate Ecu information. However he does suggest warning.

“It doesn’t make a distinction if methods had been produced within the EU or outdoor of it when taking into consideration their compliance with information coverage necessities. However device produced through firms that would possibly have connections with intelligence services and products of nations outdoor the EU must be of particular passion for us.”

It’s not at all times transparent who’s taking extra passion in who. Palantir has proven it has achieve and affect over the shaping of information round information and privateness in Europe. Probably the most continent’s main thinkers on giant information, synthetic intelligence and ethics have labored with the corporate in a paid capability. Certainly one of them is Nico van Eijk, who held a professorship on the College of Amsterdam. Assembly Van Eijk in his present process is an concerned procedure. This present day his administrative center is in a bunker in The Hague in the similar construction because the Netherlands’ Council of State. It’s right here that he runs the committee that oversees the Dutch intelligence services and products.

You’ll be able to simplest input in the event you depart all virtual gadgets on the front – no telephones, laptops, no recording gadgets. All through the Covid disaster workers may just now not earn a living from home as their communications can’t be depended on to an web connection. The committee has real-time get entry to to all information and investigations through the army and basic intelligence services and products of the Netherlands.

At a gathering in January 2021, Van Eijk declined to speak about a prior function he hung on Palantir’s advisory board however counseled the corporate on having a moral board within the first position. Palantir stated Van Eijk was once an adviser on privateness and civil liberties and that board individuals are “neither requested nor anticipated to accept as true with or endorse choices made through Palantir” and are “compensated for his or her time”.

Firms, together with the ones in tech trade, are sponsoring more and more lecturers with possible implications for the manufacturing of information on information and privateness.

A lot of Van Eijk’s colleagues on the College of Amsterdam take a distinct view of Palantir. Forward of the 2021 Amsterdam Privateness Convention (APC), one of Europe’s premier occasions at the matter, greater than 100 main students signed a criticism that mentioned: “The presence of Palantir as a sponsor of this convention legitimises the corporate’s practices and provides it the chance to put itself as a part of the schedule … Palantir’s industry type is in accordance with a specific type of surveillance capitalism that objectives marginalised communities and hurries up using discriminatory applied sciences corresponding to predictive policing.”

Palantir stated it’s not a surveillance corporate. “We don’t supply information assortment services and products, together with equipment that permit surveillance of person voters or customers.”

Inferiority advanced

Europe’s dependence on US tech isn’t an issue of outrage just for human rights advocates and privateness students. Probably the most greatest companies in Germany and France had been in talks over the introduction of one thing similar to a protected haven for their very own commercially delicate information. The ones discussions printed that German automobile producers have been simply as apprehensive as any privateness campaigner about freeing their information to US cloud services and products, corresponding to Amazon Internet Products and services.

Marietje Schaake, the director of Stanford’s Cyber Coverage Centre, warned that Europe’s “tech inferiority advanced” was once resulting in unhealthy choices: “We’re construction a device residence of playing cards which is bought as a provider to the general public however is usually a legal responsibility to society. There’s an asymmetry of information and gear and duty, a query of what we’re ready to grasp within the public passion. Non-public energy over public processes is rising exponentially with get entry to to information and skill.”

Palantir says that “it effectively operates inside and promotes the objectives of the GDPR and its underlying ideas”. It insists it’s not an information corporate however reasonably a device corporate that gives information control platforms. It has for a decade, it says, labored in Europe with business and executive organisations, “serving to them effectively meet information coverage necessities at scale as mandated at a Ecu and nationwide point”.

The most recent Ecu bid for better virtual sovereignty is GAIA-X, wrongly billed in some quarters as a venture to make a Euro-cloud. It’s, in truth, an affiliation that can search to set the principles during which Europe-based firms do industry with cloud computing services and products. Simply as GDPR implies that Europeans’ non-public information must be handled otherwise on Fb than that of customers outdoor the EU, GAIA-X would imply business information is extra tightly managed at the cloud. Regardless of its relative obscurity, GAIA-X would possibly move directly to have profound implications for the industry type of US tech firms, or hyperscalers.

It was once a marvel due to this fact when Palantir proclaimed itself, amongst different firms, a “day 1 spouse” of GAIA-X three months sooner than any resolution have been made. Officers on the affiliation complained of “antisocial companions” who had jumped the gun for causes of industrial merit. In the end, Palantir was once allowed to sign up for.

Palantir says it did not anything that different firms concerned with GAIA-X didn’t do.

The chairman of GAIA-X, Hubert Tardieu, previously a senior govt at French tech company ATOS, famous that the affiliation didn’t need to get mired in court cases from “firms in California who know so much about antitrust regulation.”