Palantir is a big data analytics company with a reputation for being incredibly secretive. That hasn’t helped it escape public scrutiny for its collaboration with law enforcement agencies such as the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, its critical role as a technology backbone for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), or the cozy relationship between Donald Trump and its founder, Peter Thiel.
Palantir has a long history of working with third parties, including intelligence agencies and select vendors known as "Preferred Partners" that are authorized to provide "select forms of product support services." On YouTube, there is a whole ecosystem of tutorial videos by third-party data analytics companies advertising all the things you can do with Palantir and similar software, such as IBM’s i2 Enterprise Insight Analysis.
One of those vendors is Praescient Analytics, an Alexandria, VA-based company. Praescient Analytics isn’t currently a Preferred Partner but has provided Palantir support services to law enforcement agencies such as the Cook County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
Through its presence on YouTube, Praescient explains its commitment to "applying cutting edge analytic technologies and methodologies to support government and commercial clients.” For example, in one video, the company demonstrates how an organization can use Palantir's software to find out if one of its employees leaked confidential information to a blogger.
The demonstration revolves around a car company that had to recall its product due to faulty wiring. The company conducted an internal report on how this happened and who was responsible for the defect, but the internal report was leaked to the press via a 10-minute voicemail. Praescient claims that this demonstration is based on a real case that it handled.
The idea of plugging an internal leak is not new, but Praescient’s demonstration video shows how to easily plug it with Palantir’s data. First, a user needs to search for emails sent outside the company, then for phone calls made within a certain period that lasted longer than 10 minutes. This produces a list of suspects and whether they made a call to an internal or external number. It also depicts each suspect’s position in the corporate structure to determine if they could've had access to the confidential information. Praescient's tools can then automatically pull social media data to find out if the suspects have primary or secondary connections to the blogger. If the suspect has a private profile, then Praescient can target other connections in their social network and scrap those profiles. After a connection is discovered, a closer investigation of the mutual connection's social media uncovers a photo where the suspect and the blogger are both present.
These sorts of methods can be applied to a host of other scenarios. In another video, the company claims the same tools can be used to track the political and military dimensions of Kim Jong Un’s ascension to power in North Korea.
In another video Praescient claims Palantir's tech can help a user map out the connections between various people and neighborhoods involved in the 2011 UK riots. Most commentary and analysis highlights police brutality as a major factor in sparking the riots. The demonstrator uses Palantir’s software to try and challenge what the validity of that narrative, suggesting rioters were simply “show[ing] the police we can do what we want” or opportunistic looters with connections to organized crime.
Another video shows how Praescient can be used for "Prison Management Support." The software allows a user to track inmates in real-time, claiming that by allowing jailors to "store diverse sets of information,” it can allow guards to "proactively monitor inmates profiles and understand their capabilities." In other words, prisoners can be more effectively segregated or isolated if the data analytics justifies suspicion about where they work, who they associate with, or which cell block they are caged in.
Now that Palantir has renewed its contract with ICE through 2022 for over $49 million, it is important to try and shed light on how Palantir’s software is used—not just by ICE, but by third-party vendors who provide support to the private sector and law enforcement.
Praescient Analytics did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.