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Palantir to blame for unauthorised FBI personnel accessing private data

The data in question was that of accused cyberhacker Virgil Griffith, as he is currently under federal investigation after being arrested in 2019 after speaking at a conference in North Korea. Virgil was arrested for allegedly providing North Korea with information about how blockchain tech and cryptocurrency could be utilized to help it evade US sanctions. The data included social media information and was collected privately via a federal search warrant in March 2020, this information from Twitter and Facebook, was uploaded to Palantir’s program through the default settings, meaning unauthorised FBI employees were able to access it.

Palantir is an AI data-sifting company used by bodies such as FBI, CIA and ICE. The firm launched in 2003 with Peter Thiel at the frontline, and it builds software programs that integrate huge datasets and will sift through to find patterns and connections. Peter Thiel was the first outside investor for Facebook, and a co-founder of PayPal and was famously known for abandoning Silicon Valley in 2018. Palantir has reached a market value of almost $22 billion in its debut on the New York Stock Exchange, but despite its rise, many security experts express concerns with the technology and how the tools they create are used for surveillance and analysis of data, including social media posts and drivers’ licenses, all of which are stepping on eggshells of the right to privacy for the people and could be abused at any time. The firm have also been under fire and caused protests in the UK as their tech is use by ICE and immigration authorities to round up undocumented immigrants. Amnesty International had issued a report saying the firm wasn’t protecting human rights, Palantir lashed back saying they have declined work with some border authorities in the US due to their concerns.

An apparent glitch in Palantir’s software program that is being used by the FBI allowed the private data to be viewed and accessed at least four times from May 2020 to August 2021by four different unauthorised employees within the FBI, this was noted in a letter by the prosecutors from the Manhattan federal court case against Griffith. The agent assigned to the case was alerted to the access earlier this month, after another agent emailed him and said an analyst has accessed the search warrant material on Palantir’s software. The information in question was apparently not intended for use in the case against Griffith and the prosecutors have asked Palantir to delete the data. Palantir has strongly denied the claims and have said the fault was that of the FBI and their incorrect use of Palantir’s product. Griffith’s lawyer is looking into ways to remedy this situation into ways to help his client.

Although Palantir have said the accessing of the data wasn’t their fault, it does open up some new questions about how safe the software is if the data had been stumbled upon multiple times and how often it has happened before. Digital privacy groups are concerned about how this ‘glitch’ could spark interest into a wider problem with the FBI’s use of the software. Albert Fox Cahn -founder of Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a privacy and civil rights group-, has said that the same issue will happen whenever documents are uploaded with default settings and there isn’t any notification when they have been improperly accessed it could imply this has happened many times and may continue to in the future if Palantir doesn’t seek to solve the issue.

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