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Palantir: Concerns over data firm set to be NHS ‘operating system’ | NHS

For a company called upon to deliver the NHS’s new global data platform, it’s fitting that Palantir Technologies is named after an all-seeing orb.

Palantir, named after the powerful crystal balls deployed in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, is favorite to win a £360million contract for the NHS’s Federated Data Platform (FDP). Covering everything from individual patient data to vaccination schedules, waiting lists and medical trials, the FDP will consolidate data from multiple sources and different formats into a single platform.

According to a document sent to potential bidders for the five-year contract, it “will provide access to real-time data to enable decision-making to better coordinate care.” Speaking at London Tech Week last week, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Now is the perfect time to gather data and reap the benefits.”

The platform’s ambitious reach has alarmed campaign groups, who fear for patient confidentiality, privacy and data security, but the identity of the frontrunner has also raised concerns.

US-based Palantir was co-founded by Peter Thiel, one of Donald Trump’s few high-profile supporters in Silicon Valley. The $15.6bn (£12.7bn) company has come under fire for its work with the US immigration agency, as well as its intelligence services and defense contracts. It already works closely with NHS England providing software that processes data for a variety of purposes, including taking Covid-19 vaccines and managing post-pandemic rebound in elective care (surgery or treatment reserved for the patient). ‘advance).

But the prospect of a global data platform being set up for NHS England has alarmed Foxglove, a UK legal campaign group that focuses on accountability in the tech industry. Foxglove’s concerns, and those of similar organizations, relate to two aspects: the security of patient data and the nature of the company that will set up the data framework and seek to exploit it.

“A company like this has no place as the ‘operating system of the NHS’ – period,” says Foxglove director Cori Crider, who adds that the company “makes no secret of its desire to continue profiting from war and surveillance”. .

Crider adds that there is not enough public information about the FDP, although documents have been circulated among potential bidders. According to the documents, the main five-year contract for FDP is worth £360m and the platform will offer £3.6bn in profits over 10 years.

“We have deeper concerns about this federated data platform,” Crider says. “How much confidential patient data will be scanned, who will have access to it and under what conditions? It’s clearly not built just for your GP – it will serve a host of other government officials. We sent a legal letter asking for answers, and received almost no details in return.

Phil Booth, founder of medConfidential, which campaigns for privacy in healthcare, says Palantir is the favorite for the contract because it is already doing some of the work envisioned in the FDP.

“Palantir is already doing a lot of things that will be done by the platform. Moving away from something that is already deeply embedded in NHS England systems would be a big change.

He adds that it is “crazy” to merge such a variety of NHS functions into one monolithic system. “NHS England offers to exchange all complex data streams across a range of vital systems by simply purchasing a company’s product off the shelf. This single platform, the idea of ​​one thing to rule them all, is strange. You can’t just grab all the data and expect all of the architectures in the ecosystem to line up and integrate.

Palantir was co-founded in 2003 by Thiel, 54, co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook. Some initial funding came from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency – the US foreign intelligence service – reflecting the company’s origins as a tool in the fight against terrorism. Palantir’s software programs process massive amounts of data, enabling customers to identify previously undetectable patterns and connections or, as the company puts it, convert “massive amounts of information into insights that reflect their world.” “.

It is deeply rooted in the American public sector. Other US government clients include the Internal Revenue Service, the US financial watchdog, and the Department for Health and Human Services. It also has a contract with the US military to modernize its battlefield intelligence system and is reportedly working with the Pentagon on Project Maven, its artificial intelligence program.

It assists several Western governments in the fight against terrorism and governments account for more than half of its income, with clients including the UK Ministry of Defence. Despite rising revenue — up 41% to $1.5 billion last year — it has posted annual net losses of $520 million, $1.2 billion and $580 million since 2019 .

His most controversial contracts in recent years have been with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). He works with an ICE subdivision called Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). HSI targets drug trafficking, money laundering and human trafficking, among other forms of criminal activity that may violate US immigration and customs laws.

Palantir says it never had a contract with the ICE unit responsible for evictions, enforcement and removal operations, or ERO. But a US immigrant rights group, Mijente, says its technology played a role in raids on Mississippi food processing plants in 2019 in which 680 undocumented immigrants – described as “removable aliens” in the official press release – were arrested.

Thiel, 54, is a libertarian billionaire who has used his fortune to support right-wing candidates in the United States, including Trump’s successful bid for president in 2016. His other Republican endorsements include author of Hillbilly Elegy, JD Vance, who is running for Senate in Ohio. , and Blake Masters, a midterm senatorial candidate for Arizona who warns of a “widespread awakening” on his website. Speaking at a bitcoin conference in April, Thiel described ESG – which stands for environmental, social and corporate governance and is a cornerstone of responsible investment principles – as a “virtue sign.” , a hate factory term” while describing cryptocurrency proponents as a “revolutionary youth movement.” ”.

Palantir co-founder and chief executive Alex Karp, 54, is a Joe Biden supporter who told the New York Times in 2020 that his leftist upbringing and dual heritage — of a Jewish father and a African-American mother – would make him a natural target in the wake of a far-right power grab. “Who is the first person who will be hanged? You make a list, and I’ll show you who they get first. It’s me. There is not a box that I do not check.

However, Palantir’s listing on the New York Stock Exchange in 2020 was accompanied by a letter from Karp that criticized the Silicon Valley community. Around the same time, Palantir announced that it was moving its headquarters from California to Denver, Colorado.

“Our company was founded in Silicon Valley. But we seem to share less and less the values ​​and commitments of the tech sector,” Karp wrote. “Our software is used to target terrorists and keep soldiers safe… We have chosen our side and we know our partners value our commitment.”

Palantir’s London bureau chief is Louis Mosley, grandson of Oswald Mosley and nephew of the late former Formula 1 governing body chairman Max Mosley, who later became a privacy campaigner in life. Speaking to The Sunday Times in 2020, Louis Mosley said Palantir’s origins were as a privacy advocate. “Palantir actually started to guard against government excesses in privacy. Much of the software we have built is used to prove these types of protections.

Palantir describes itself as a software company that does not mine or sell customer data. Indeed, the bidder documents for the FDP state that it is a platform that will be “owned and controlled by the NHS”.

An NHS spokesperson said: “The safe and secure use of patient data enables the NHS to create more responsive patient services, and this software that we are looking to use for the FDP will put the NHS in control of its data and will ensure that sensitive patient information is held in a secure environment that meets the highest national standards. The spokesperson added that the NHS would conduct a “fair and open” procurement process for the platform.

But the MedConfidential stand says Palantir’s work outside the UK should give the NHS pause when it considers awarding the contract, which is due to start in November. “Is this really a company we want to have at the heart of our NHS? You cannot separate software from the company that manufactures it.

theguardian Gt

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