Britain Gave Palantir Access to Sensitive Medical Records of Covid-19 Patients in £1 Deal

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal Inc. VCG | Getty Images

Sam Shead, CNBC

  • The U.K. Government gave Peter Thiel’s Palantir access to sensitive NHS patient data. 
  • A contract published online on Friday shows that Palantir is charging the NHS just £1 for its services. 

Britain’s National Health Service has given secretive U.S. tech firm Palantir access to private personal data of millions of British citizens, according to a contract published online.

Data includes personal contact details, gender, race, occupation, physical and mental health conditions, past criminal offenses, as well as religious and political affiliation.

The contract, known as a data-sharing agreement, was published Friday by politics website OpenDemocracy and law firm Foxglove alongside similar contracts with Google, Microsoft, and U.K. AI start-up Faculty.

“The contracts show that the companies involved, including Faculty and Palantir, were originally granted intellectual property rights (including the creation of databases), and were allowed to train their models and profit off their unprecedented access to NHS data,” openDemocracy editor-in-chief Mary Fitzgerald and Foxglove founding director and U.S. lawyer Cori Crider wrote in a blog post.

Data is a highly valuable commodity to tech giants, and personal patient data is among the most highly sought after.

The contracts show Palantir charged only £1 ($1.27) for use of its Foundry data management software while Google offered “technical, advisory and other support” for free.

All of the tech firms were enlisted by the British government to set up a national platform that would allow health officials to understand how the coronavirus is spreading across the U.K. and help them allocate resources appropriately.

Details of the data platform were first made public in March but the U.K. government refused to publish the all-important data-sharing agreements following a number of freedom of information requests, including one by CNBC. The contracts were finally published last week after OpenDemocracy and Foxglove threatened legal action.

Co-founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, an ally of President Donald Trump, Palantir has developed data trawling technology that intelligence agencies and governments use for surveillance and to spot suspicious patterns in public and private databases. Customers include the CIA, FBI, and the U.S. Army.

Palantir sees a huge opportunity in Europe and now has more staff in its London office than it does at its headquarters in Palo Alto, California.

Last September, Palantir was looking to raise new funding at a $26 billion plus valuation, according to Reuters. It is expecting to reach $1 billion in revenue this year.

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