Privacy advocates call for a European investigation into Palantir

The Dutch privacy group SOMI is calling for a wide-ranging investigation into the activities of the controversial data analytics firm Palantir in the European Union (EU) and wants to raise awareness about the collaboration of European governments with technology companies from outside the EU on profiling and surveillance technology.

This article was published on November 16 2020 on Written by Pilar Benegas. Please find the English translation below.

The Amsterdam-based Foundation for Market Information Research (Stichting Onderzoek Marktinformatie, or SOMI), is a non-profit organization that advocates for data privacy and consumer issues in the Netherlands and across Europe.

It says it is taking action because neither Palantir nor the multiple European agencies that use its technology have been willing to share information about its performance. These bodies are known to include Europol, which has used Palantir's Gotham software to conduct analysis of operations in an anti-terrorist task force, as well as the French intelligence services, the Danish national police, the state police in Hesse and North Rhine -Westfalia, Germany and possibly Dutch police.

In the UK, in addition to being linked to Cambridge Analytica in the past, Palantir pledged this year to work alongside Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft to build a data analytics program for NHSX's work on Covid-19. More recently, she was given post-Brexit UK customs and border data oversight, while in the US she has worked with the US immigration agency ICE, which in turn has been implicated in multiple abuses of human rights under the Trump regime.

"The strength of Palantir's approach lies in the ability to combine independent and therefore meaningless data in such a way that unexpected connections and insights emerge," said Cor Wijtvliet, co-founder of SOMI.

"But it was precisely this access to all those databases that gradually turned appreciation and admiration for the work and the software into a state of mistrust and disapproval."

SOMI hopes its complaint will benefit European citizens by forcing Palantir and its users to clarify how the company accesses citizens' data, who uses it, what they use it for, and what data has already been or will be processed. It also hopes to highlight the potential consequences of European agencies committing to GDPR "flawed or non-EU [General Data Protection Regulation] compliant software."

He said he believed that the predictive surveillance methods that Palantir's software can enable clearly violate the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and various GDPR regulations. In particular, SOMI said, the GDPR provides safeguards against the application of practices such as profiling and automated decision-making.

SOMI also highlighted Palantir's close relationships with the United States government and intelligence agencies as a source of concern, as well as the lack of transparency in meetings held with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"The purpose of SOMI's public action is to ensure that all European citizens are well protected from random or uncontrollable practices and that the integrity of EU surveillance operations is not compromised by unknown non-European entities," said the group.

More information on the proposed action, including for current EU citizens on how to register to participate, can be found on the SOMI website, in Dutch and English. The organization has also developed a GDPR mobile application that consumers can download to make subject access requests for an overview of their personal data.