28 May 2020 — True Publica
By Rob Woodward: Palantir is a special ops company. It is considered at best as a controversial and highly opaque company that has long sought to sell governments an unmatched power to sift and exploit information of any kind for any purpose. Its billionaire owner Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal, through Palantir has worked for years to boost the global dragnet of the NSA and its international partners and was in fact co-created with American spies.
Sounds like the stuff from a spy novel, conspiratorial even. Unfortunately, it’s true. The CIA itself was an early investor in Palantir back in 2004 as a startup through In-Q-Tel, the agency’s venture capital branch.
The Intercept reported back in 2017 that Palantir has a subsidiary whose clients are exclusively – state intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security. “Palantir has helped expand and accelerate the NSA’s global spy network, which is jointly administered with allied foreign agencies around the world. Notably, the partnership has included building software specifically to facilitate, augment, and accelerate the use of XKEYSCORE, one of the most expansive and potentially intrusive tools in the NSA’s arsenal.
According to Snowden documents published by The Guardian in 2013, XKEYSCORE is by the NSA’s own admission its “widest-reaching” program, capturing “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet.”
There is nothing that they can’t capture. Skype video calls, webcam and mobile phone images, keyboard logging, passwords – the lot.
Palantir works with the UK’s GCHQ. Palantir’s software was demonstrated with one entry in GCHQ’s classified internal wiki, calling the software “extremely sophisticated and mature. … We were very impressed. You need to see it to believe it.”
And as GCHQ used hacking tools to bypass system security, spyware, anti-virus and other security software – it then let Palantir strip users devices for the information the government wanted. But then, all this was known, it was reported into the public domain.
It is also known that Palantir has been funded by several foreign government’s in the past, but many are unaware that its software system is, in fact, built by the intelligence and security services community.
All of the above – whilst just scratching the surface on who Palantir really is – should not be forgotten because they are now at the heart of the Covid-19 crisis in Britain. Offered in by the British government, Palantir is involved in a mortality tracking programme with NHS commissioners, Health Service Journal has learned.
Thiel, and Palantir is working with Faculty, a British artificial intelligence startup, to consolidate government databases.
In addition, Thiel, and Palantir is working with Faculty, a British artificial intelligence startup, to consolidate government databases.
Both the government and NHS gave assurances that this collaboration was just to help combat the C19 – but as documents revealed the project included “gathering large volumes of data pertaining to individuals, including protected health information, Covid-19 test results, the contents of people’s calls to the NHS health advice line 111 and clinical information about those in intensive care.”
The Guardian reported that – “A Whitehall source said they were alarmed at the “unprecedented” amounts of confidential health information being swept up in the project, which they said was progressing at alarming speed and with insufficient regard for privacy, ethics or data protection.”
The truth is this – under cover of the Covid crisis, the government in conjunction with GCHQ demanded the keys to NHS security system and have accessed everything from patient data files, people’s gender, postcode and so on and cross-referenced that with a master patient index, an existing NHS resource that uses “social marketing data” to segment the British population into different “types” at household level.
If you wanted to ask why it is that the government are so keen and enthusiastic to use Palantir in the first place – it is because it is the same company at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal that got Brexit across the line. Involved was Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson, and a number of high-profile Tory MP’s and Peers.
You might ask – what does an American tech surveillance giant want with all this data. The answer lies inside Brexit. If you wanted to privatise the health service – what you need more than anything is data to sell to insurance companies and private healthcare providers. Something like a due-diligence report that would include profit and liability models, along with a database of potential customers and how to steer clear of liabilities. An American trade deal will, despite Johnson’s assurances to contrary, hand Britain’s health care over on a platter.
Johnson lied about the NHS as the starting gun to his Brexit campaign. He lied to the agricultural industry who are now facing annihilation by American agribusiness. He lied about a border in Northern Ireland. Why would a rational person believe what Johnson says about the NHS – Britain’s jewel in the crown and the last vestiges of social democracy?
And as TruePublica reported last October, companies including the US credit-rating businesses Experian and TransUnion, as well as the outsourcing specialist Capita and Palantir, are selling machine-learning packages to local authorities that are under pressure to save money, simply because they are being starved by the government. In fact, one in three councils are now using these American tech giants to make decisions about the lives of people in Britain.
The human rights community has thus far done a very poor job of persuading industry, government, or seemingly society at large, of the fact that a technologically-driven future will be disastrous if it is not guided by respect for human rights and grounded in hard law.
But then again, Boris Johnson’s government is not bound by the law is it.