NHS faces lawsuit over data deal with "spy-tech" firm Palantir

Matt Hancock on the move

The NHS is being taken to court over a data contract awarded to controversial US data firm Palantir.

The Open Democracy has announced the legal action after a contract extension was awarded to the US "spy-tech" company for long-term analysis of large quantities of public health data.

Palantir was awarded an "emergency" contract by the NHS in March to assist in handling the COVID pandemic. The firm was once funded by the CIA and is known for its involvement with defence projects and immigration agencies.

The Open Democracy is accusing the government of "quietly" giving Palntair a contract extension in December and a "major, long-term" role handling NHS data. The new two-year contract reaches beyond COVID and into areas like Brexit and more, the organisation said.

There is also a suggestion that this deal has been in the works for much longer. Palantir has spent years courting top UK and NHS officials over cocktail dinners in London, San Francisco and Davos, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

"Emails seen by the Bureau show that discussions between Palantir and NHS chiefs about how the company could work with patient data were underway throughout the second half of 2019, months before the pandemic hit - and indeed that by January 2020, Palantir's London team were already working on a product 'exclusively focused' on the UK's healthcare market," the Bureau states.

Health secretary Matt Hancock is already facing calls to resign from a number of politicians after a court ruled that his department had not published details of contracts awarded during the pandemic. The health secretary was found to have "breached legal obligations" over the spending of taxpayer money.

The Open Democracy said it had a duty to consult the public and users of the NHS before striking "massive deals which affect the future".

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The group also pointed out that data protection impact assessments were critical in ensuing health information and human rights were protected, something they claim the government hadn't done with the Palantir contract.

"Health secretary Matt Hancock and his advisers must have known it wouldn't look good," the Open Democracy wrote.

In a statement given to IT Pro, an NHS spokesperson said: "The company is an accredited supplier to the UK public sector, the NHS completed a Data Protection Impact Assessment in April 2020, and an update will be published in due course."

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognise him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.