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Controversial US company: NRW data protection officer considers the use of Palantir software to be inadmissible


North Rhine-Westphalia police are using software from the controversial company Palantir in a test run. The country's data protection authority considers this to be potentially illegal. Interior Minister Reul speaks of a misunderstanding.

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"Comprehensive compilation and analysis of data": North Rhine-Westphalia's Interior Minister Herbert Reul

Photo: via / imago images / Political-Moments

The North Rhine-Westphalian data protection officer currently considers the use of analysis software from the tech company Palantir by the state's police to be inadmissible.

According to SPIEGEL information, the authority comes to this conclusion in a preliminary data protection assessment that it recently submitted to the state interior ministry.

"There is currently no legal basis for the use of the DAR software," the data protection officers say on request.

"If it is used with real data, it is illegal."

The system for "cross-database analysis and research" (DAR) has been used by the police in North Rhine-Westphalia in test operation since October.

It is intended to help officials fight serious crime, terrorism, organized crime and the dissemination of child abuse recordings, among other things.

DAR is based on the software »Gotham« from Palantir.

SPIEGEL and its research partners "Lighthouse Reports" and "The Guardian" recently reported on the activities of the controversial US company in Europe: the last attempt was made by the company founded in 2003 by investor Peter Thiel with funds from the CIA venture capital firm In-Q-Tel to offer IT support to several European governments in the fight against pandemics.

With the Palantir analysis platforms, large amounts of data from various sources and formats can be merged, searched and the results visually processed.

This should speed up the analysis considerably and make it easier to identify relationships.

Police officers should be able to intervene much faster and more efficiently, according to the advertising promise.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, the system could only process data that the police already had and that previously had to be laboriously merged and analyzed by hand from different data sources.

However, they could be enriched with additional data from the residents' registration office, the national weapons register or the central register of foreigners "through additional individual queries".

Data protectionists assume "data mining" - Ministry of the Interior contradicts

North Rhine-Westphalia's data protection officer nevertheless expresses considerable legal concerns in their preliminary assessment.

"The DAR software enables the comprehensive consolidation and analysis of data from different sources in order to generate new knowledge," the authority announces upon request.

This is so-called data mining in the sense of the case law of the Federal Constitutional Court.

This can be assumed if procedures and methods were used with the help of which large amounts of data that were already available were »independently analyzed for relationships in order to generate 'new knowledge' in this way«.

Regardless of this, the use of the DAR software constitutes an »encroachment of considerable weight on the fundamental right to informational self-determination of the data subjects«, the data protection officers explain at the request of SPIEGEL.

Such interventions could not be based on general legal clauses, but required a specific legal basis that regulates the interference with sufficient clarity.

According to the data protection officers, the legal bases that the state government had previously named the data protection officer did not meet these requirements.

The North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of the Interior has now contradicted this assessment.

“The DAR software is not used for 'data mining',” says a reply from the company that SPIEGEL has received.

The use of the software does not provide for any automated collection of data.

Data from “non-police data pots” could only be used in individual cases and only through “manually initiated individual queries”.

"In particular, the independent and automated analyzes that are so characteristic of data mining do not take place with the system used," the letter continues.

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At the end of September, Palantir went public


The Ministry of the Interior has announced another, more comprehensive statement on the subject.

At the request of the Green parliamentary group, Minister Herbert Reul (CDU) sent a report to the Interior Committee in the Düsseldorf state parliament.

It says about the preliminary assessment of the data protection officers: "In my opinion, it cannot be ruled out that the statement is based on a misunderstanding regarding the functioning of the DAR system." The purchased software does not allow essential possibilities that the authority attributes to it.

The Minister of the Interior has offered the data protection officer to have the "functionalities of the software - in compliance with the current pandemic conditions - presented for further examination".

Palantir also contradicts every assessment that it is doing data mining.

"We do not collect, use or sell any personal data from or for our customers," the company recently announced at the request of SPIEGEL and its research partners.

Palantir also does not use the data of its customers "to create models or› algorithms ‹for machine learning or artificial intelligence, use, transfer, resell or pass them on to other customers."

"Structural contradiction" between basic rights and software needs

Nevertheless, experts have been observing the use of the company's software with skepticism for a long time.

The Bochum criminology professor Tobias Singelnstein, for example, sees a "structural contradiction" between the requirements of the basic right to informational self-determination and the technical needs of software.

In principle, personal data may only be used for the purpose for which they were collected.

"The idea of ​​Palantir, however, is, to put it simply, to lump everything together," says Singelnstein.

The police in North Rhine-Westphalia are aiming "subject to the experience from the pilot operation" to use the DAR software during ongoing operations at the earliest possible date in 2021, according to the interior ministry's answer to the data protection authority.

According to this, 72 evaluators and 50 clerks are currently using the system.

A total of 31 district police authorities are involved.

In Hessen, too, the police use software based on the Palantir product »Gotham«.

The state parliament created a new legal basis specifically for their use.

There, too, the use of Palantir caused critical inquiries and reactions - a committee of inquiry had dealt with the award.

Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2021-04-15

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