Dark Money Investigations: News

‘Spy tech’ firm Palantir made £22m profit after NHS data deal

Exclusive: CIA-backed company made record UK profits after winning multi-million-pound government contracts, while ex-Palantir official given key Test and Trace post

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Martin Williams
23 August 2021, 5.07pm
Palantir has been awarded more than £46m in UK public contracts since start of 2020
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Dennis Diatel / Alamy Stock Photo

Controversial ‘spy tech’ firm Palantir Technologies made £22m in profits last year after winning controversial deals with the NHS, openDemocracy can reveal.

Experts have warned that contracts with the secretive company could involve an “unprecedented” transfer of patients’ sensitive health information.

Palantir has been awarded more than £46m in public contracts by the UK government and NHS since the start of 2020.

Last year, openDemocracy successfully sued the government, forcing it to commit to not extending Palantir’s contract beyond the COVID pandemic without a consultation.

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Now, the Silicon Valley company’s UK arm has revealed it made huge profits in 2020 – having made a financial loss the year before.

The company’s latest accounts boast of “the increasing value of our business with Her Majesty’s government”. The accounts say that Palantir will “cultivate and maintain” its relationships, including with the government.

Co-founded by billionaire Peter Thiel – who has also funded Donald Trump – Palantir worked to support the CIA’s counterinsurgency and intelligence operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other clients have included the FBI, the US Army, and the US Special Operations Command.

openDemocracy has now discovered that a number of former Palantir officials have gone on to work for the government.

Palantir says it will ‘cultivate and maintain’ its relationships, including with the UK government

One of them, Mike Speirs, joined the Department of Health and Social Care in December, six months after leaving Palantir.

Speirs’ LinkedIn profile now describes him as a “deputy director” of the department, acting as chief of staff to the chief operating officer of the COVID Test and Trace scheme.

While at Palantir, Speirs says he “led the data ingestion and governance programme for Palantir’s work with the NHS in response to the COVID-19 crisis.”

Last year, openDemocracy revealed how Palantir had increased its lobbying of Conservative ministers before being awarded a crucial NHS contract.

Emails have also shown how it embarked on a charm offensive to sell services to the NHS in 2019, and by January 2020 was working on a product “exclusively focused” for the UK’s healthcare market.

Phil Booth, coordinator of campaign group medConfidential, said it is “alarming” that Palantir is being embedded into “critical functions” within the NHS.

“Who said or even asked if using mass-surveillance tools in our public services – tools snuck in without proper procurement processes, and still lacking even the most basic accountability – should become ‘business as usual’?”

In December, the UK government revealed it had given Palantir a £23m two-year deal to process patients’ sensitive medical data. The contract was framed as an emergency response to the pandemic, with government lawyers claiming that the public did not have a right to have a say.

Palantir made a loss of nearly £1.6m in 2019, compared to a profit of £21.8m in 2020, according to accounts filed with Companies House this week.

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Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, told openDemocracy: “Yet again, the revolving door between Palantir and the Department of Health and Social Care proves that the rules that are supposed to govern conflicts of interest in Whitehall are unfit for purpose.”

“Short-term emergency COVID powers cannot and must not be used to secretly embed private companies within our National Health Service and give private companies access to sensitive patient data.

She added: “Our National Health Service is our country’s greatest institution and our greatest asset. It should be run in the interests of the people who work for the NHS, the people who rely on the NHS and all of us who love and treasure it, not in the interests of private companies that seek to profit from health services and patient data.”

Kailash Chand, the former deputy chair of the British Medical Association who recently passed away, previously condemned Palantir’s work in the NHS, saying it will damage trust.

“It makes it difficult for people like me to convince ethnic minority people that this is being done in their best interests,” he said. “The secrecy around what the government is doing with NHS data, working with companies like Palantir, will damage what trust is left amongst ethnic communities, for migrants, and in the NHS family as a whole.”

Palantir has increased its presence in the UK in recent years, with its technology being used by the government, police and NHS.

In 2016, the Metropolitan Police trialled the company’s predictive policing software – which has been accused of creating a “racist feedback loop” in some American police forces. Palantir later agreed to pay $1.7m to settle a US government lawsuit over allegations of racial discrimination, although it did not admit any wrongdoing.

Responding to questions about former Palantir staff getting jobs in government, the Department of Health and Social Care said the Test and Trace scheme has "drawn on expertise from across the public and private sectors".

A spokesperson said: "We have robust rules and processes in place in order to ensure that conflicts of interest do not occur and we continue to ensure all contracts are awarded in line with procurement regulations and transparency guidelines. Proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts and appointments, and we take these checks extremely seriously."

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