Tuesday 30 March 2021 7:04 pm

NHS hits back in legal row over £23m data deal with Palantir

The NHS has been thrown into a row with campaigners amid a legal row over a £23m deal with secretive US tech giant Palantir to process sensitive health data.

Palantir first began working with the NHS in March last year as part of efforts to tap into a vast data store of health information to help tackle the pandemic.

But the short-term contract was extended for two more years in December in a deal worth £23.5m.

Campaigners at political website Open Democracy, which describes Palantir as a “spy tech” firm, sued the government over the extension, citing concerns about “mission creep well beyond the pandemic”.

Now the group and the NHS have become embroiled in a row over who backed down in the legal case.

Open Democracy today hailed an “important victory” in the battle, saying the government had agreed not to extend Palantir’s contract beyond Covid without consulting the public.

Ministers have also agreed to engage the public about whether firms such as Palantir should be allowed to hold long-term NHS contracts, they said.

But the NHS hit back at the claims, insisting instead that it was Open Democracy who backed down.

“Actually Open Democracy have had to drop their court case unilaterally as it was apparent even to them that the NHS has always acted in accordance with its legal responsibilities,” a spokesperson said.

“They therefore stood no chance of succeeding in their completely spurious claim. It would be more honest if they actually came clean with their crowdfunders that far from ‘winning’ this case they had no choice but to drop it when they realised they hadn’t a leg to stand on.”

The row first emerged last year amid concerns about a lack of transparency over how government deals with Palantir were struck, as well as over health secretary Matt Hancock’s longer-term plan for the NHS.

“We still need full transparency on the Palantir deal: the government continues to refuse to lift key redactions on what data is being fed into Palantir’s datastore,” Open Democracy said in a statement today.

“We need to know that the public consultation they’ve promised is far-reaching, not just a box-ticking exercise.”

Colorado-based Palantir, which was founded by outspoken billionaire Peter Thiel in 2003 with support from the CIA, has frequently come under scrutiny from privacy groups.

The notoriously secretive company has previously attracted criticism for its involvement with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Trump administration, helping to target undocumented immigrants.