NHS issued legal challenge over contract with Palantir

By | February 24, 2021

The tech-justice firm Foxglove has issued a lawsuit on behalf of news site openDemocracy over a National Health Services deal with the controversial big data firm Palantir Technologies.  

According to Sky News, the lawsuit claims that NHS England failed to consider the impact of the deal on patients and the public by performing a fresh Data Protection Impact Assessment.  

“This isn’t just about Palantir. The future of the NHS is being written now, in the latest chapter of the pandemic,” wrote Foxglove founding director Cori Crider and openDemocracy editor in chief Mary Fitzgerald in an opinion piece.

“The government has a legal duty to consult us, citizens and NHS users, before they strike massive deals which affect that future. In doing so, they need to take important steps (like conducting ‘data protection impact assessments’) to ensure our health information and our rights are protected,” Crider and Fitzgerald continued.  

WHY IT MATTERS

Palantir – originally funded, in part, by the CIA – has faced criticism and mistrust for its work, including its ties to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  

Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded Palantir multiple contracts as part of its COVID-19 response plan.

NHS England followed suit, striking a two-year, 23.5M-pound contract in December for Palantir to provide it with “data management platform services.” The contract followed an initial trial period starting in March, which involved Palantir’s Foundry software being used to power the NHS’s COVID-19 data store.  

“The data store is slated to be wound down at the end of the pandemic, although no firm date has been proposed for this. However, the fact that Palantir’s new contract includes a clause outlining ‘service recovery planning … with the ability for the Buyer to transition this tool for general business-as-usual monitoring’ implies that use of the software could continue in the long term,” noted Crofton Black for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on Wednesday.  

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Crider and Fitzgerald raised similar concerns, saying that the two-year contract extends “to Brexit, general business planning and much more.”  

An NHS spokesperson told Sky News that “the company is an accredited supplier to the U.K. public sector, the NHS completed a Data Protection Impact Assessment in April 2020, and an update will be published in due course.”  

THE LARGER TREND  

The NHS joined forces with Palantir, along with Microsoft and Amazon, last spring to develop a data platform to inform the COVID-19 response. The move triggered concerns from privacy advocates, who urged NHS to be “extremely cautious and transparent in its dealings with Palantir.”  

After openDemocracy and Foxglove sent legal letters demanding transparency about the agreements, the U.K. government released the contracts in June.  

ON THE RECORD  

“Striking quiet deals with firms like Palantir, especially with no real public dialogue, risks demolishing trust in the NHS among the very communities where the government now urgently seeks to shore up trust,” wrote Crider and Fitzgerald.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: kjercich@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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