HHS is paying Peter Thiel's Palantir $24.9 million to track coronavirus. Lawmakers want to know if it's using that data to help ICE deport people.

Activists protest outside the Palantir Technologies software company for allegedly helping ICE and the Trump administration in New York CityReuters
  • Fifteen Latino lawmakers are demanding answers about the Department of Health and Human Services' $24.9 million coronavirus contract with Palantir, a company that has contracts with ICE.
  • Palantir is a data-mining firm founded by Trump megadonor Peter Thiel. It makes software that aggregates information on millions of people, including employment history, social networks, phone records, and more.
  • HHS paid Palantir to make a new platform specifically meant to track the spread of coronavirus, but little is known about the scope of the project or how the data is being used.
  • Before it scored the HHS contract, Palantir had several contracts with ICE. In at least one instance, Palantir's platform has provided ICE with HHS data, which led to the arrests of hundreds of immigrants.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are demanding answers about the Department of Health and Human Services' $24.9 million coronavirus contract with secretive data-mining company Palantir.

Palantir was first awarded the coronavirus contract in April. It was tasked with developing a platform, dubbed HHS Protect, that mines coronavirus-related data from more than 200 sources including state coronavirus case counts, hospital capacity, diagnostic labs testing data, and other "private sector" data sources, according to an HHS spokesperson.

But many specifics about HHS Protect remain unclear. In their letter to HHS, first reported by NBC News, 15 lawmakers are calling for more transparency, decrying that "HHS has failed to share, among other items, what data goes into the system, how it can be used, or with whom it can be shared."Advertisement

The lawmakers also raised concerns about the possible overlap between HHS Protect and Palantir's existing ICE contracts. They noted that in at least one instance, ICE used information from a Palantir database that drew information from the HHS in order to carry out arrests of hundreds of immigrants.

"Naturally, we have valid concerns on whether the existing surveillance framework Palantir has created to track and arrest immigrants will be supplemented by the troves of potentially personal health information contained within the HHS Protect platform," the lawmakers wrote.

An HHS spokesperson told Business Insider that HHS Protect only collects "de-identified" data that cannot be tied back to specific people.
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"ICE does not have access to the HHS Protect system. HHS Protect was designed and is deployed for use by officials leading the public health response to COVID-19," the spokesperson said.

Palantir is a data-mining firm founded by Trump megadonor Peter Thiel that specializes in building software for governments to keep tabs on their citizens. It sells software that aggregates information on millions of people, including employment history, social networks, phone records, and more. Palantir has run data-mining operations for the Pentagon, ICE, and the FBI, among others. A Palantir spokesperson told Business Insider that the company is merely a software provider that HHS pays for "supporting technical services."Advertisement

"HHS uses a licensed version of Palantir's software to run their Protect platform. All data contributed to Protect from state health departments and other facilities remains at all times under the sole stewardship and control of HHS," the spokesperson said. "Palantir does not collect, broker, or share HHS data with other Palantir customers (including ICE-HSI) for any purposes other than those directed by HHS for their public health response efforts."

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