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Reps.AOC and Chuy Garcia want to investigate the secretive Silicon Valley startup. Photo: Jesse Korman/EFE
Reps.AOC and Chuy Garcia want to investigate the secretive Silicon Valley startup. Photo: Jesse Korman/EFE

What is Palantir? Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Chuy Garcia are calling for an investigation

Before the data analytics company, Palantir, made its market debut, Rep. AOC wrote a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission citing various concerns.

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Palantir Technologies.

You may never have heard of it, but that’s understandable. Palantir holds a reputation of being highly secretive despite the power it holds.

It’s the tech startup that may-or-may-not have helped track down Osama bin Laden, and it’s coming for your information next. 

This little-known company just went public on the stock market with a starting valuation of $16 billion. Since it’s debut, Palantir has hit a $22 billion valuation, after much anticipation since it was founded in 2003.

Palantir is a data mining company. TechCrunch calls it a “secretive data analytics company” that provides software to U.S. agencies. But while trying to maintain a low profile, it drew the attention of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Jesús “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL). 

What kind of software, and who does Palantir provide it to?

Rep. AOC and Rep. Garcia wrote a letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) back in mid September — before it went public — asking it to investigate Palantir, as its secrecy became jeopardized with the impending stock exchange listing.

In the weeks leading up to its listing, the representatives called attention to Palantir’s failure to disclose important information regarding its practices.

The Sept. 17 letter called for the SEC to investigate Palantir over its funding from the CIA, its contracts with the Qatar government, its investors and its data protections before it went public. 

Despite the letter ahead of the stock listing, the SEC made no investigation into the alarms, and Palantir went public a week later.

The specific omissions, AOC and Rep. Garcia warned, could lead to risk for future investors and raise national security threats as it begins trading stock. 

“Palantir reports that its ‘government work is central to defense and intelligence operations in the United States and its allies abroad,’ but does not provide further information on the nature of its work for domestic or foreign intelligence agencies, despite recognizing that public perception of its government contracts represent a material risk to investors,” the representatives wrote.
 

It’s true.

Palantir has working relationships with government agencies and police departments across the nation. It also has contracts in countries like Qatar, providing surveillance software and data capabilities to track and follow people. 

On Tuesday, a Buzzfeed News report found the Los Angeles Police Department had used Palantir for over 10 years for facial recognition software. 

It’s issues of security and privacy like this that have propelled action from Reps. AOC and Garcia.

In fact, multiple members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) have demanded fuller transparency from the company.

Most recently, around 15 CHC members demanded insight into the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHH) multi-million dollar contract with the data mining company. 

Palantir had been contracted by the DHH, in part by the Trump administration, to develop a platform that sorts and analyzes COVID-19 related data from hundreds of sources. The issue was, there was no telling what data would go into the system, how it would be used, and with whom it would be shared.

In August, a group of health experts warned that Palantir could abuse the contents of the Trump administration’s coronavirus database, The New York Times reported.

Palantir also has contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), over which the CHC has also inquired. 

Palantir has contracts with both the DHS and ICE to build detailed profiles in individuals in a single location, CBS reports, and ICE has used Palantir’ s technology to arrest the parents of children who cross the border— inciting family separation — and to conduct massive workplace raids.

The Latinx advocacy group Mijente, has also raised alarms about Palantir technology being used by ICE to coordinate arrests of immigrants.

“Palantir’s software was used throughout, helping agents build profiles of immigrant children and their family members for the prosecution and arrest of any undocumented person they encountered in their investigation,” Mijente wrote in a statement.

The organization has since expressed gratitude towards AOC and Garcia for tackling the issue.

With contracts with potential corrupt foreign powers, lack of transparency in data collection, unknown privacy measures and more, the personal information of millions is now uncertain. 

The glaring distrust of Palantir highlights the long-standing issues the United States faces with data transparency. We saw this last year, with Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook hearing, and we saw it back when Edward Snowden made his groundbreaking leak to the public about how the government watched its every move.

The United States has shown time and time again, that its legislators don’t fully understand the implications of cyber security, information gathering, and how to protect citizens from breaches in privacy.

AOC and Rep. Garcia’s call for investigation, while it has so far merely raised awareness in regards to Palantir’s secrecy, is more a move towards considering this sort of cybersecurity legislation for the future.

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