MEPs have urged the European Commission to provide more details on the EU’s relationship with controversial US big data analytics firm Palantir, following a series of revelations detailing the involvement of the company in Europe.
The news comes following a recent EURACTIV investigation which revealed that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had met the CEO of Palantir at Davos in January, but that the executive had kept no notes detailing what had been discussed in the meeting.
Palantir obtained infamy following a 2018 partnership agreement with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in which the company was contracted to deploy its Investigative Case Management (ICM) system, used as part of President Donald Trump’s bid to deport millions of immigrants from the US.
The firm also counts as one of its founders Peter Thiel, Facebook’s first outside investor who also donated $1.25 million to President Trump’s 2016 Presidential Campaign. It has also been alleged that Palantir previously worked with Cambridge Analytica, the political analytics firm that illegally obtained the personal data of around 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge.
EURACTIV’s recent report has sparked immediate reactions from Members of the European Parliament, including liberals Karen Melchior and Sophie in ‘t Veld, who pressed the Commission to improve its commitment to transparency – an area highlighted as a political priority by President von der Leyen at the start of her term.
In ‘t Veld, who has been following the operations of the US company since they provoked controversy, penned a separate letter to the Commission on Thursday (10 June), calling for more information on key several developments in the relationship between Palantir and EU organisations over recent years.
A day earlier, on June 9, EU home affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson had revealed that EU law enforcement agency Europol had been using technology developed by Palantir since 2016, for “the operational analysis of all counter-terrorism related data.”
The police agency contracted Palantir indirectly through the Dutch arm of French company Capgemini, based on a multi-million public tender deal, Johansson wrote in a letter to Cornelia Ernst, a lawmaker from the leftist GUE group in the European Parliament.
In ‘t Veld pushed the Commission further for the details of this relationship on Wednesday, highlighting also that a senior analyst at Europol worked as an “embedded analyst” at Palantir from December 2012 until March 2014.
The Dutch MEP also raised concerns about Palantir’s involvement in Europe’s coronavirus contact tracing app, and requested more information about a March 2019 meeting between EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles De Kerchove and Deputy Director General Mr Olivier Onidi, who travelled to Washington to meet with Palantir representatives.
Moreover, at the beginning of June, documents released to in ‘t Veld under freedom of information laws brought to light a series of briefing notes prepared for a meeting between Peter Thiel and the EU’s Vice-President for Digital, Margrethe Vestager, at the Munich Security Conference in February this year.
In the briefing notes, Vestager is asked to deliver a series of “main messages” to Thiel – one of which concerns the lack of EU private sector investment in “deep technologies”. In this vein, the notes advise that Vestager “welcome suggestions” from Palantir’s founder:
“For several reasons however, the private sector in the EU is not investing yet in innovative deep tech companies as much as it could,” the briefing notes say. “Welcome ideas and suggestions from your interlocutor, based on his long experience in the US and his recent experience in Europe on how this situation might Improve.”
(Edited by Frédéric Simon)