Europol uses Palantir

Since 2016, the European Police Agency has been using the „Gotham“ software to analyse big data. Europol has signed a contract for 7.5 million euros with the company Capgemini, just over half of the money has already been spent. Palantir promoted the software at the „European Police Congress“ in Berlin.

The police agency Europol in The Hague has been running the „Gotham“ software of the US company Palantir for several years. This is what the European Commission writes in its answer to a parliamentary question. The application was tested in 2016 within the framework of the „Fraternité“ task force, which Europol set up after the attacks in France at that time. Palantir is criticized for his close cooperation with the military and secret services in the USA.

Since mid-2017, „Gotham“ has been in continuous operation, and Europol is using it for „operational analysis“. This enables investigators to calculate and visualize relationships between persons, objects or the course of events. „Structured data“, such as contact lists, tables from radio cell queries and travel histories, are linked with „unstructured data“ such as photos or location data. This big data analysis is intended to generate new investigative hints.

Files in „Anti-Terrorism Centre“

Europol uses „Gotham“ for terrorism cases. To this end, the agency has set up three Analysis Files for Islamist and non-Islamist terrorism and for „foreign fighters“. These files contain extensive dossiers of suspects, but also of contact persons, travel agencies and other businesses. The files belong to the „Anti-Terrorism Centre“ (ECTC) at Europol in The Hague. Gotham“ is probably also installed there.

According to the Commission, data processing with the Palantir software is carried out by special staff in a „separated, highly protected operational environment“. At which interface „Gotham“ is operated, the Commission does not write. Europol uses a „Unified Search Engine“, with which different databases are searched simultaneously for keywords. The search engine can query the Europol Information System (EIS), the Europol Analysis System (EAS) and the encrypted communication network SIENA. The Palantir software could also access the data via an Internal Document Management System. All files created by Europol are managed there.

Data also to authorities in third states

Europol is competent for serious crime and terrorism affecting two or more EU Member States. Findings from the analysis with the Palantir software are used by the competent authorities of the countries concerned. According to the Commission, however, they can also be passed on to third countries. Europol has concluded operational agreements with several countries, including the USA.

In the area of „foreign fighters“ Europol works closely with US authorities. Data are obtained, among others, from the military, which collects them in „battlefields“. This includes fingerprints or DNA data as well as evaluated data carriers or mobile phones. Because military data is subject to a different level of secrecy, the exchange with Europol is not direct, but via the FBI.

Advertising at the „European Police Congress“

Europol has not procured „Gotham“ directly from Palantir; the Dutch company Capgemini is a subcontractor. So far, Europol has paid around four million euros for the software, licenses and services provided by Capgemini. The framework agreement was concluded for a total of Euro 7.5 million.

The Capgemini contractual relationship began in 2012, four years before the first test at Europol. The Commission does not explain whether and for what purpose the software was used during this period. At that time, Palantir had tried to market its products to police forces and secret services in Europe at events such as the „European Police Congress“ in Berlin. The company proposed to search even large databases like the Schengen Information System with it.

The Commission writes that no other EU agencies use Palantir products. Presumably, this only refers to the police application „Gotham“, as the aviation agency EASA has also, according to its own information, purchased Palantir software from its British subsidiary for 15 million euros. In the „Data4Safety“ project it is used by air traffic controllers.

Palantir at German police authorities

Police forces in Germany also use „Gotham“. First the Hessian Ministry of the Interior obtained the software in 2017 in a dubious procedure that led to a parliamentarian inquiry, where it is called „hessenDATA“. Following its use in the fight against terrorism and organized crime, it is also used to prosecute crimes against the elderly. Since mid-2018, special units have also been equipped with „hessenDATA mobile“ on mobile phones, and the software is now being rolled out throughout Hessen. From the end of the year, the police in North Rhine-Westphalia also want to introduce „Gotham“.

The German Federal Police has also shown interest in Palantir. According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, officials have participated „in a software presentation and information meeting“ of the company. Previously, the Ministry of Defence had had the software shown to them. During the Corona crisis, Palantir had also sent a concept paper „Palantir against COVID-19“ to the Federal Ministry of Health. As was only recently announced, the ministry then sought advice from Palantir on how to implement it. According to the Federal Government, however, there is no cooperation.

Image: CC-BY-SA 2.0, Aad Meijer

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.