Palantir is a household name in Europe
Palantir is a household name in Europe
The American software house Palantir is said to be the most secretive company in Silicon Valley. It was launched in 2004 in the aftermath of the attacks in the US and the 2nd Iraq war. One of the first investors was the CIA's venture capital arm, In-Q-tel. Palantir provided the software indispensable in the fight against terrorism.
Palantir was able to process and analyze large numbers of data in a way that was new for those years. In 2011, Bloomberg Businessweek described Palantir as an indispensable weapon of the US intelligence services in their fight against international terrorism. In the meantime, the company had greatly expanded its relationship with the government. The TechCrunch website revealed in 2013 that Palantir participated in 50 government contracts and sent invoices to at least 12 government agencies. In addition to the CIA, Palantir clients include DHS, NSA, the FBI, but also the marines and the air force.
Thanks to those relationships, Palantir had access to thousands of databases filled with all kinds of data about citizens and companies inside and outside the US. The strength of Palantir's approach lies in the ability to combine independent and thus meaningless data in such a way that unexpected connections and insights arise. But it was precisely this access to all those databases that gradually turned the appreciation and admiration for the work and the software into a mood of mistrust and disapproval. Barely 7 years after the praise of 2011, Bloomberg Businessweek strikes a completely different tone. It calls the company a monstrous government spy.
It is precisely the close ties with organizations such as the NSA and the CIA that are sounding alarm bells in various places. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), that collaboration is a totalitarian nightmare. The software house makes it possible to map millions of innocent and ignorant people. There is no democratic control over this action. The company works for organizations that can work with all the collected data at their discretion. For example, it has collaborated with the now-bankrupt Cambridge Analytica.
This criticism is clear and it raises the question of whether this mysterious organization is also active in Europe and if so what these activities look like in this part of the world. The answer can quickly be given in the affirmative. Palantir is also active in Europe and it counts government services and intelligence services among its clients.
Research by journalist Matthiass Monroy, among others, shows that the ties with Europol, the European Police Service, date back to 2012. In that year, the Dutch subsidiary of the French Capgemini signs a contract with Europol. Capgemini was and is a subcontractor to Palantir. What exactly that agreement entailed remains unclear. What is certain is that in the period 2012 - 2014 an analyst from Europol was added to Palantir. It is also clear that in those years Palantir made great efforts to gain a foothold with European police forces and intelligence services.
As of 2016, there is more clarity about the links between Europol and Palantir. A framework agreement is signed for a value of € 7.5 million. Europol will use the Gotham software program to analyze Big Data. The agreement comes about after the bloody attacks in France in those years. The French government also concluded a separate contract with Palantir in 2016, which was renewed in 2019.
According to the European Commission, the software program is managed by a dedicated staff that operates independently of the rest of the organization. However, this special staff has access to all Europol databases with its software program.
Europol has the power to intervene in the fight against crime and terrorism if at least two Member States are affected. Findings of the data analysis may only be made available to a limited number of competent authorities of the countries concerned. However, the findings may also be made available to the authorities of third countries with which Europol has operational links. The US is such a country.
In the period 2012-2014, Palantir invested in building relationships with European police forces. The company also appears to be successful in this regard. In Germany, for example, it has contacts with police forces in various federal states such as Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia. The contract with the latter state has a value of € 15 million. The contacts date back to 2017. But the federal police have also shown interest in the aforementioned software program Gotham, as well as the Ministry of Defense. However, it is denied that contracts have been signed for cooperation.
The Coronavirus appears to be creating new opportunities for Palantir to broaden and deepen its ties with Europe. The company says it will support the British NHS in its fight against the coronavirus. As an extension of this agreement, Palantir is now trying, whether or not successfully, to conclude similar agreements with governments of countries such as France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The company says it can help under-pressure health organizations detect and analyze the virus. It can also lend a hand in improving the efficiency of the use of doctors and nurses, and the timely identification of potential shortages and supply chain problems. It could also help determine whether and to what extent quarantine measures should remain in place.
It is unclear how successful Palantir has been in Europe so far. It is clear that it has contacts in at least 30 European countries. The company also has good personal contacts at the highest political level in Europe. In a detailed letter to the European Commission, dated June 10, 2020, Sophie in 't Veld asks about the nature of the discussions between the President of the European Commission, Ms. Von der Leyen and the CEO of Palantir, Alex Karp. Those talks took place during the World Economic Forum in Davos in January of this year. No minutes had been taken of those conversations. She also asked about the nature of the conversations between Mrs. Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, and Peter Thiel, one of the founders of Palantir. Those two had a chat at the Munich Security Conference in February this year!
The rationale behind these questions is whether it is wise to partner with a company that has at least built up a dubious reputation in the United States. Why should such a company have almost unlimited access to European data, while it is completely unclear what exactly happens with many millions of data, how they are used and where they end up? Undoubtedly to be continued!