Palantir Technologies is a data-mining firm that loves it some predictive policing: computer-aided sorcery that uses data models to try and predict where crimes may occur and who's got a reasonable chance of committing them.
For predictive policing to work well, the predictive model being built needs to be well fed with data on criminals, their first, second and third-person acquaintances, their social media accounts, and crime statistics for the area where the model is meant to be seeing crimes before they may possibly happen. It sounds like shit right out of Minority Report, because it kinda is – just without spooky kids in a swimming pool and a hell of a lot less accuracy.
Accurate or not, the notion of predictive policing raises a number of civil rights and privacy concerns. The ACLU isn't down with it, as the methodology of stopping someone without reasonable suspicion is against the Fourth Amendment. In their eyes, computer-aided guesses don't cut it when it comes to justifying a stop-and-frisk. China's been using it to snoop on their citizens and has been sending suspected radicals and political dissidents for re-education, just in case they decided to protest their nation's ruling party's status quo. It's creepy shit.
Anyway, back to Palantir.
Did I mention that it was started up by Peter Thiel with money seeded by the CIA? No? How about the fact that they've been running an off-the-books program with the New Orleans Police so secretive that the city's own government didn't have a clue that it was going on? Welp, according to a troubling feature over at The Verge, they totally are.
The Verge's Garret Beard and Alex Castro have pieced together a tremendously troubling story of the partnership, which has been in place since 2012 and slated to dissolve on February 21st, 2018. That a city has been using predictive policing for so long, especially when there's doubts as to its reliability, is troubling. What makes it even worse is that according to Ali Winston, not one of the city's elected officials had the chance to debate the merits of entering into the Palantir partnership. The why of it is simple: none of them knew it was going on – or at least, if any one did, no one breathed a word of it:
Several civil and criminal attorneys who are heavily involved with the New Orleans' criminal justice system were also unaware of any predictive policing efforts by the NOPD. Multiple criminal attorneys had never seen Palantir analytic products as part of any discovery materials turned over to them in the course of trial cases, although such analysis would typically be required to be given to defense counsel if it had been used as part of an NOPD investigation.
Jason Williams, the president of the New Orleans city council and a former defense attorney, reviewed documentation of Palantir's collaboration with NOPD at the request of The Verge. Williams said he had never heard of the company's involvement with NOPD.
"I don't think there's anyone in the council that would say they were aware that this had even occurred because this was not part and parcel to any of our budget allocations or our oversight," Williams said in an interview during a council meeting.
When the conversation between the police, civic officials and the people that both groups are meant to serve breaks down, nothing good will ever come of it. In instances where the cops won't even mention what they're doing to the people who have oversight over their activities, scary shit can happen, quickly. I'll be losing sleep over this one.
Image via Flickr, courtesy of Tomás Del Coro