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21 Oct 2020

Michael Steinberger, New York Times

Palantir chief executive defends company practice & ICE contract; company continues to face allegations of human rights abuse

"Does Palantir see too much?" Oct 2020

[Palantir's] two primary software programs, Gotham and Foundry, gather and process vast quantities of data in order to identify connections, patterns and trends that might elude human analysts... Although Palantir claims it does not store or sell client data and has incorporated into its software what it insists are robust privacy controls, those who worry about the sanctity of personal information see Palantir as a particularly malignant avatar of the Big Data revolution. [Chief executive Alex] Karp himself doesn’t deny the risk. “Every technology is dangerous,” he says, “including ours.” The fact that the health records of millions of people are now being funneled through Palantir’s software has only added to the unease.

... Palantir’s software was created with two primary security features: Users are able to access only information they are authorized to view, and the software generates an audit trail that... But the data... is controlled by the customer, and Palantir says it does not police the use of its products. Nor are the privacy controls foolproof; it is up to the customers to decide who gets to see what and how vigilant they wish to be.

...[Karp] refused to back away from the most damaging connection, Palantir’s work with ICE... “It’s a de minimis part of our work, finding people in our country who are undocumented,” he said. But Jacinta González of the advocacy group Mijente contends that even that comment was “totally false” and that Palantir’s software has played an integral role... She claims that in recent years, ICE raids on undocumented individuals became much more targeted... González says it was clear to her and her colleagues that ICE had somehow obtained access to a wealth of personal information about those individuals... With the help of a research firm that examined government documents, Mijente concluded that Palantir’s software was helping to power ICE’s crackdown.

... Karp said that Palantir couldn’t break with ICE because doing so would mark it as an unreliable partner in the eyes of the military. If Palantir walked away from ICE, he said, it would send a horrible message to soldiers who depend on Palantir’s software.