NHS Must Explain Role Of Surveillance Company in Covid Battle

30 March 2020 — True Publica

By Rob Woodward – TruePublica: Peter Theil is the co-founder of PayPal and Palantir Technologies. Palantir is a data-mining company – nice words for it activity of surveillance and espionage. Their activities have been found in the past to breach all sorts of privacy laws. Its algorithms vacuumed up emails and browser histories, GPS locations from smartphones, printer and download activity, and transcripts of digitally recorded phone conversations. They comb through financial documents, airline reservations, cellphone records, social media postings—and searches for personal and business connections and work places and at home.

Palantir’s software aggregated, searched, sorted, and analysed records, surfacing keywords and patterns of behaviour and have been in the middle of a number of corporate scandals in the USA. In one Bloomberg article, it described Palantir as – “an intelligence platform designed for the global War on Terror which was weaponized against ordinary Americans at home.”

Palantir was also at the centre of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal that helped drag Brexit over the line in 2016.

And now we find that Palantir is at the heart of a health data project within the NHS right in the midst of the Covid-19 battle. Of all the companies available for such a project – Palantir is probably the least trustworthy in the world, given their track record of surveillance, privacy and data abuses. We should also not forget that Palantir’s past work has involved the tracking of migrants and provision of espionage tools.

Reacting to news that Palantir is in discussion with the NHS to “clean” and analyse bulk health data, including tracking of spare beds, ventilators and calls to 111. Open Rights Group and Privacy International emphasised the impact on trust in the NHS’s anti-COVID-19 measures this may have, without full transparency and safeguards over the companies’ role.

The image above shows just one network of many that Peter Thiel has built around a surveillance system that has a 360-degree architecture range that goes so deep into your world, there is nothing it does not know about you if it was asked by any of its clients.

Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group said:

Everybody’s goal must be to build trust in the national response to COVID-19.

“Palantir have a poor reputation, as engaging in activities which threaten personal privacy and may lead to other human rights abuses. The NHS, therefore, needs to be extremely cautious and transparent in its dealings with Palantir. They must explain how people’s data may be handled and protected and how they will ensure that Palantir does not acquire or abuse information. The last thing that we need as a nation at this time is for ill-thought out arrangements to generate a privacy backlash.”

Privacy International said:

“It’s absolutely right that we do everything we can to support the NHS amid this public health emergency, but what does this mean for the long term? In the past, Palantir clients are reported to have faced extreme difficulties accessing the analysis produced by Palantir when trying to end a contract. Vendor lock-in is a real risk here which must be appropriately mitigated.”

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