Peter Thiel’s Company Is Using War on Terror Tools to Track Americans

Bloomberg writes that the scary thing is Palantir is desperate for new customers.

Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel, founder of Palantir, a data-mining company. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Getty Images

When used by a company, Palantir, the data-mining company, gathers email and browser histories, GPS locations from company-issued smartphones, printer and download activity, and transcripts of digitally recorded phone conversations. Its software can aggregate, search, sort, and analyze all these records, and spit back keywords and patterns of behaviors for companies to check for potential abuse of corporate assets.

Founded by Peter Thiel and some fellow PayPal alumni, Palantir started out working for the Pentagon and the CIA in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the company’s engineers don’t actually do any of the spying. According to Bloomberg, the software looks through disparate data sources — like financial documents, airline reservations, cellphone records, social media postings — and searches for connections that human analysts might miss.

The program then presents all the information in colorful, easy-to-interpret graphics. It has been used to hunt Osama bin Laden. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses the software to detect Medicare fraud while the FBI utilizes Palantir in criminal probes. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security uses it to screen air travelers and keep tabs on immigrants. Police departments in major cities like New York, New Orleans, Chicago and Los Angeles has also used it. People who are not suspected of committing a crime often pop up on Palantir, inside boxes connected to other boxes by radiating lines labeled with the relationship: “Colleague of,” “Lives with,” “Operator of [cell number],” “Owner of [vehicle],” “Sibling of,” even “Lover of,” reports Bloomberg. 

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