The UK government held talks with US data analytics firm Palantir in an attempt to bolster its struggling inspection and tracking program after a spreadsheet error caused a row. thousand cases of coronavirus positive infection were not reported for several days.
Inspection and tracking officials have discussed with the controversial tech firm about using Foundry software to manage sensitive contact tracking data, according to people familiar with the plan.
The contract will help streamline the vast pool of information about new virus cases across the UK and potentially allow the new model to track the spread of disease across specific regions or parts of the country. country.
The “beat the world”; monitoring and monitoring program promised by Boris Johnson in May so far has not provided the vital line of defense against Covid-19 that ministers had hoped for, contributing to the decision. the UK government decision on Saturday to announce the new national key of measures.
The system was ruined by initial IT glitches, slow test turnaround times, and difficult to reach people fast enough to prevent them from infecting others. Last month, amid the most embarrassing failure, ministers were forced to launch an investigation after a delay in moving 15,841 positive cases to the check-and-follow system due to the hit Excel spreadsheet. size is maximum and cannot be automatically updated.
Digital NHS, the technology arm of the health system, has worked with an American data analytics company, Splunk, to monitor capabilities in testing and monitoring systems.
Discussions with Palantir have focused on licensing its software to the monitoring and monitoring program, allowing public health officials to manage data more efficiently. The long-term aim will be to secure a deeper understanding of how the virus spreads, so that the government can act more quickly.
However, bringing Palantir – which has attracted criticism from civil liberties groups for its work with the US immigration agency and close association with national security agencies – will cause argumentative. The company was contracted by the NHS to work on a Covid “data warehouse” that manages the distribution of PPE and other medical devices between UK hospitals, but privacy campaigners have pointed to extracting the lack of transparency in the contracting process.
One person familiar with the discussions admits that using Palantir software for the testing and tracking program, which handles hundreds of thousands of individual case contacts per week, is much more sensitive than work. that the company is currently working on. They added that the data analysis team could lose the contract because of “bad optics”.
The healthcare and social division did not comment when asked about government discussions with the company. Although Palantir has contributed to a study that examines and tracks the spread of coronavirus in nursing homes in the UK, there are currently no plans to extend the company’s lifetime, officials say. They added that Palantir had no access to personally identifiable data and no data left the UK.
The company listed on the New York Stock Exchange in late October and now has a market capitalization of around $ 17 billion. Palantir executives have said that the surge in new Covid-related business has prompted them to speed up their plans to list on the stock market, which is already planned for next year.
Ilia Siatitsa, an expert in surveillance and technology at the campaign group Privacy International, said that she would be concerned about any private company’s involvement in testing and tracking data.
“Any public-private partnership in the health sector can have a direct and life-changing impact on the public – that’s why the UK government has to,” said Ms. Siatitsa. ensure transparency and correct process ”. But she added that the UK government’s record of transparency with Covid’s contracts was “poor”.
“We were concerned about Palantir’s existing contract with the government for the Covid data warehouse because the details were too clear,” she said. “The company is very opaque. . . and there’s very little information about how it uses the data it processes ”.
DHSC said NHS Test and Trace is committed to complying with “the highest ethical and data management standards”.
“Personal data is only used by those who need it to gain access, such as to do contact tracking and must be subject to strict information management rules in order to fulfill requests. of data protection law. “
Palantir declined to comment.
Additional reporting by Tim Bradshaw
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