Lawmakers in a top German court have ruled that a previous law created in Hamburg is unconstitutional. The city created legislation in 2019 that allows police to use data analytics software from Palantir technology. However, a national court has now issued strict guidelines on how the police can leverage automatic data analysis software.
Palantir Technologies has been backed by the CIA and its Gotham platforms give police the ability to create network maps of phone contacts. A report from Ars Technica points to Britta Eder, a defense lawyer who has contacts who are criminals within Hamburg (city and state). She admits she often wonders if her conversations are being tracked.
Palantir allows a data dragnet to essentially put people under surveillance without their permission. Eder was one of 11 people who took Hamburg’s legislation to higher courts in Germany to have it removed.
Over the weekend, the case was successful. As well as overturning Hamburg’s law, the court put in place rules for how police can access platforms such as Palantir. Furthermore, lawmakers issued a warning about using data that belongs to people who are witnesses or lawyers.
According to the ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht), laws like those in Hamburg and a similar legislation in Hesse “allow police, with just one click, to create comprehensive profiles of persons, groups, and circles,” without separating criminal suspects from witnesses or lawyers.
It is worth noting the ruling is not specifically against Palantir or its Gotham platform. In fact, police can still use the tool. Even so, it makes it less useable by police forces and the ruling could put other forces in Germany and the EU from paying for the platform.
Palantir was co-founded by Peter Thiel and provides police forces with the ability to connect databases to access huge loads of informational data on people.
Hamburg was readying itself to use Palantir technology but will not halt its integration. The state will need to re-write its legislation on how the software can be used. As for Hesse, it has already been using Gotham since 2017 and will also need to re-write its rules.
In an official response to the ruling, Palantir says it is happy with the decision:
“We welcome the German Federal Constitutional Court’s efforts to provide clarity on the circumstances and ways in which police authorities can process their lawfully collected data to help keep people safe,” says Paula Cipierre, head of privacy and public policy in Palantir’s Berlin office. “Thanks to its high configurability, Palantir software can be flexibly adapted to new legal conditions.”
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