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July 15, 2019 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Revealed: This Is Palantir’s Top-Secret User Manual for Cops [Vice] Motherboard obtained a Palantir user manual through a public records request, and it gives unprecedented insight into how the company logs and tracks individuals.
“Through a public record request, Motherboard has obtained a user manual that gives unprecedented insight into Palantir Gotham (Palantir’s other services, Palantir Foundry, is an enterprise data platform), which is used by law enforcement agencies like the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. The NCRIC serves around 300 communities in northern California and is what is known as a "fusion center," a Department of Homeland Security intelligence center that aggregates and investigates information from state, local, and federal agencies, as well as some private entities, into large databases that can be searched using software like Palantir.”
[The document obtained by Motherboard for this story is public and viewable on DocumentCloud.]
posted by Fizz (23 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Advanced analytics & search capabilities with enhanced data visualization capabilities to facilitate LEOs to more rapidly violate your 4th amendment rights. What a wonderful time to be alive.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:39 PM on July 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


From the Article:
• If police have a name that’s associated with a license plate, they can use automatic license plate reader data to find out where they’ve been, and when they’ve been there. This can give a complete account of where someone has driven over any time period.
• With a name, police can also find a person's email address, phone numbers, current and previous addresses, bank accounts, social security number(s), business relationships, family relationships, and license information like height, weight, and eye color, as long as it's in the agency's database.
• The software can map out a person's family members and business associates of a suspect, and theoretically, find the above information about them, too.
😟
posted by Fizz at 3:40 PM on July 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


The names of these programs are a dead giveaway that they need to have more hiring diversity. Palantir? Gotham? WHITE NERD ALERT
posted by freecellwizard at 3:42 PM on July 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


You know, this may be an odd reaction, but I'm not surprised by anything here. If anything, I'm kind of surprised Vice didn't find anything more obviously suited to abuse. I think this could have been done (and perhaps was done) ten or fifteen years ago without all that much substantial effort.

I am not sure what safeguards such a system would need to be meaningfully auditable and prevent abuses by law enforcement. I also note that most of the information it uses appears to be public records or easily obtainable, which makes me wonder how much of a similar interface is available to corporations, private security, private investigators, or just your average nosey citizens.

I am sure this will end up being abused by whomever it's available to; I am sure it will end up amplifying existing power hierarchies.

Do we need a GPDR for public records in the USA?
posted by thegears at 3:45 PM on July 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


WHITE NERD ALERT

It’s important that the pervasive and invasive surveillance stage be staffed inclusively.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:51 PM on July 15, 2019 [33 favorites]


I remember when the cops only had SCMODS.
posted by Catblack at 3:53 PM on July 15, 2019 [10 favorites]


this isnt so scary- the software here isnt the "eye" as such, it's just organizing information that's fed into it. what's really scary is the tech used to gather the information in the first place- facial recognition scanners and license plate readers being used on people who arent even suspected of a crime, for example.
posted by wibari at 4:06 PM on July 15, 2019 [10 favorites]


Is there a way to download the entire PDF? I'd love to use this in my technical writing class.
posted by mecran01 at 4:08 PM on July 15, 2019


The names of these programs are a dead giveaway that they need to have more hiring diversity. Palantir? Gotham? WHITE NERD ALERT

Or maybe law enforcement agencies need to hire more nerds of any color. Because maaaybe it isn't a good idea to buy analytics from a company named after corrupted stones of seeing that showed distorted visions in order to turn their users to evil and despair? Like they seriously chose that name. You should trust what they're telling you with it.

I mean the name is basically "We will manipulate you into doing evil shit" incorporated.

Too much about politics these days reminds me of this coffee mug I saw once in a gift shop labelled "poison" with a skull and crossbones, giant exaggerated warnings, the works. I figured it would be the perfect way to actually poison someone, since if you actually put poison into it, it would be near impossible to convince them it wasn't actually a joke.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:21 PM on July 15, 2019 [26 favorites]


There's gotta be more to the story of a guy who was so opposed to government intervention that he popularized the idea of seasteading while also making this. One would think a radical libertarian might be reluctant to provide the police with such power.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:28 PM on July 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


It seems like Vice's conclusions about the data available through this tool are drawn from the manual. In my experience, the manual tends to assume the absolute best case scenario (where "best" means "most information possible" and "tool works 100% as it should" and "all the data sources do what they're supposed to do.")

With a name, police can also find a person's email address, phone numbers, current and previous addresses, bank accounts, social security number(s), business relationships, family relationships, and license information like height, weight, and eye color, as long as it's in the agency's database.

Sure .. if that name is a unique name. If you're really looking for John Smith, well, good luck. Or even a much less common name if you don't have age or location. And I suspect that this tool doesn't have all of that information for all individuals. Just on the license plate piece, several states have laws restricting the length of the time the data can be maintained. If Palantir is compliant with state law, it should be automatically deleting that information as it expires. For New Hampshire, that's 3 minutes.

I'm not saying that there's no need for concern and no privacy issue here, but I have questions.
posted by bunderful at 4:43 PM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


One would think a radical libertarian might be reluctant to provide the police with such power.

Everyone please contribute to my GoFundMe to build a big laser to write "Libertarians are just fascists who assume they'll be in charge" on the moon.
posted by Reyturner at 4:59 PM on July 15, 2019 [48 favorites]


>Palantir? Gotham? WHITE NERD ALERT

Well, the evil intelligence that's controlling people through the Palantiri turns out to be Sauron's. And Gotham is most notable for being the home of a violent and deliberately frightening vigilante who operates without any legal constraints. I guess they couldn't decide which thing they wanted cops to fantasize about, so they went with 'both'.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 5:13 PM on July 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


The software can map out a person's family members and business associates of a suspect, and theoretically, find the above information about them, too

Also presumably their friends. It's like the Social Credit Score, but for Capital!
posted by Slackermagee at 5:14 PM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Also related story published at the same time on Vice: 300 Californian Cities Secretly Have Access to Palantir
posted by larrybob at 5:21 PM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Has Panopticon gone out of favor?
posted by Max Power at 5:46 PM on July 15, 2019


TECHNERD: I was able to enhance the video you sent, and I extracted a license plate!

JACK BAUER: Have you cross-referenced it?

TECHNERD: Great idea! [clickedy-click] Oh no! It's encrypted!

JACK BAUER: You have 3 minutes to break the encryption, or everyone dies.

TECHNERD: [clickedy click] Done! Turns out he's a muslim!

JACK BAUER: OK send the address to the Palantir screen in my car [runs off to disarm bionuclear thingamajig]

...so like, I have no idea why we laugh at these scripts, but at the same time they create the assumption that these things are already happening, which in turn prevents the proper level of outrage when we find out they are. People are weird.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 6:04 PM on July 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


> Or maybe law enforcement agencies need to hire more nerds of any color.

Or maybe hire people who aren't nerds, and then build something entirely unlike this? Nerd culture generally isn't awash in people whose free time is spent contemplating social ethics.
posted by at by at 6:22 PM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


There's gotta be more to the story of a guy who was so opposed to government intervention that he popularized the idea of seasteading while also making this. One would think a radical libertarian might be reluctant to provide the police with such power.

It depends on why you're a libertarian.

Some people come to that philosophy through a Menckenian "neat, plausible, and wrong" vision of a free & prosperous society. You could call these principled libertarians.

But some people come to it because past a certain point of privilege, a state is one of the few things that can impose any form of accountability on your august ubermensch person.

Which kind of libertarian Peter Thiel might be is left as an exercise for the reader, with only a little underscoring of the fact that his approach is to buy into the LEO and intelligence apparatus of the state.
posted by wildblueyonder at 6:23 PM on July 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


> Is there a way to download the entire PDF? I'd love to use this in my technical writing class.

Direct PDF link.
posted by reductiondesign at 6:44 PM on July 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


> Nerd culture generally isn't awash in people whose free time is spent contemplating social ethics.

Really tired of having to be the one who has to call bullshit on this particular kind of crap. So I'm not going to. Just a case of somebody is wrong on the internets. It's fine.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 9:13 PM on July 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


> It depends on why you're a libertarian.

Some people come to that philosophy through a Menckenian "neat, plausible, and wrong" vision of a free & prosperous society. You could call these principled libertarians.

But some people come to it because past a certain point of privilege, a state is one of the few things that can impose any form of accountability on your august ubermensch person


a while back i got to watch an asshole i knew acquaintance go from being a relatively "normal" libertarian (though with some hard-edged randian beliefs) to being a dark enlightenment monarchist (!) to being basically a standard trumpist.

basically the way he got there was by starting out as something like your type 1 libertarian — someone who believed that if the market were unleashed from state constraints, people acting in the market out of raw self-interest would as a byproduct produce a generally prosperous world. he therefore thought that the best way to improve the world was to act self-interestedly in the market while militating for the reduction of state oversight over the market. the core of his belief system was the idea that the market is just.

saddled with this belief, which he treated as axiomatic, he then1 observed that the people most rewarded by the market were the people who happened to be born wealthy. because the market is just and because the market generates a condition wherein a small hereditary aristocracy holds all of the money and power, he reasoned that therefore hereditary monarchy is the most just form of government. at this point he became something like your type 2 libertarian.

meanwhile he observed that the market tends to sort people by race, with white people at the top of the hierarchy, black people at the bottom, and everyone else somewhere in the middle. this led him toward charles murray's "bell curve," which he took as empirical evidence of the correctness of the market's system of racial sorting.2

needless to say, this... acquaintance... was thrilled when a certain donald trump stepped off of his escalator and onto the world stage. before trump's descent to power he thought of himself as something of a fringe weirdo, but the rise of trump helped him realize that great swathes of the country essentially shared his explicitly racist monarchist beliefs.

anyway. that's how you get from type 1 libertarian to type 2 libertarian to fascist. i'm not sure how many people took the same route to trumpism as this acquaintance did, but i suspect there were more than a few. frankly, i regret not taking this acquaintance's pathology more seriously back in the early 2010s, when i (like him) thought he was just a fringe internet weirdo. especially because this particular mind-virus seems endemic among powerful and influential silicon valley types.

i guess the tl;dr here is that, because of having witnessed this one guy's journey from libertarianism to fascism, i am not the slightest bit surprised that the palantir guy identifies/identified as a libertarian.

1: correctly
2: and vice-versa: to him, the market's system of racial sorting was confirmation of the correctness of charles murray.

posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:30 AM on July 16, 2019 [12 favorites]


Which kind of libertarian Peter Thiel might be is left as an exercise for the reader

Literally asking for his business rival to be investigated by intel agencies for "treasonous acts" (and getting a response in kind) -- so, the fascist kind.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:35 AM on July 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


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