Coronavirus

UK's National Health Service Gave Tech Giants Access To Millions of Britons' Health Records

UK NHS

United Kingdom officials gave a California software company access to the private personal data of millions of British residents to answer questions around COVID-19, CNBC reported.

The National Health Service (NHS) provided Palantir Technologies with volumes of personal information including contact details, gender, race, occupation, health conditions, criminal offenses and religious and political affiliations, according to the 37-page contract that was published online.

The NHS has said it allowed Palantir access to sensitive personal data of patients, employees and residents under a deal to help it cope with the pandemic.

Palantir, which has a London office and was co-founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, specializes in Big Data analytics. The tech firm got its start working for the Central Intelligence Agency CIA and the Pentagon, interpreting battlefield intelligence in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bloomberg reported.

The data sharing contract was published by London-based openDemocracy, which calls itself an independent political group, and Foxglove, a London law firm.

Also published with the document are 23 pages of similar contracts with Google, Microsoft Corp. and Faculty, an artificial intelligence startup in London that is working on the NHS’s coronavirus response and was also given access to the data.

“The contracts show that the companies involved, including Faculty and Palantir, were originally granted intellectual property rights (including the creation of databases), and were allowed to train their models and profit off their unprecedented access to NHS data,” openDemocracy Editor-in-Chief Mary Fitzgerald and Foxglove Founding Director and attorney Cori Crider wrote in a blog post.

These contracts reveal Palantir charged only $1.27 (£1) for use of its data management software while Google offered its technical, advisory and other support at no cost.

Palantir is required to replace names with pseudonyms or aggregate the data before sharing it, according to the contract.

Palantir did not respond to requests for comment from Bloomberg and CNBC.

Holly Searle, a Faculty spokeswoman, told Bloomberg the company had asked the contract to be amended to make clear it will derive no commercial benefit from any software developed during the project and that the use of the intellectual property is under the NHS control.

“This project is helping us tackle coronavirus, by helping track information about where demand is rising and where critical equipment needs to be deployed, and strict data protection rules apply to everyone involved in helping in this important task,” NHSX, a government agency that established national policy for NHS, told Bloomberg in a statement.

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