I. Uncovering ECHELON: The Top-Secret NSA/GCHQ Program That Has Been Watching You Your Entire Life
Lucas Matney@lucasmtny / 3:26 PM MDT•August 3, 2015
Image Credits: Anna Jumped (opens in a new window) / Flickr (opens in a new window) under a CC BY 2.0 (opens in a new window) license. (Image has been modified)
If history is written by the victors, government surveillance agencies will have an awfully long list of sources to cite.
Domestic digital surveillance has often seemed to be a threat endured mostly by the social media generation, but details have continued to emerge that remind us of decades of sophisticated, automated spying from the NSA and others.
Before the government was peering through our webcams, tracking our steps through GPS, feeling every keystroke we typed and listening and watching as we built up complex datasets of our entire personhood online, there was still rudimentary data to be collected. Over the last fifty years, Project ECHELON has given the UK and United States (as well as other members of the Five Eyes) the capacity to track enemies and allies alike within and outside their states. The scope has evolved in that time period from keyword lifts in intercepted faxes to its current all-encompassing data harvesting.
In a piece published today in The Intercept, life-long privacy advocate Duncan Campbell describes his past few decades tracking down the elusive Project ECHELON, “the first-ever automated global mass surveillance system.
Until Snowden placed the full capacities of the NSA and other government spying agencies in plain sight, ECHELON was largely just another codename in the conspiracy-theorist’s notebook.
Campbell made the first references to the program in his 1988 piece, titled Somebody’s Listening, where he detailed a program capable of tapping into “a billion calls a year in the UK alone.”
Campbell described his conversations with a source, preceding that piece’s publication.
The scale of the operation she described took my breath away (this was 1988, remember). The NSA and its partners had arranged for everything we communicated to be grabbed and potentially analyzed.
The program reportedly utilized massive ground-based radio antennas to intercept satellite transmissions containing the digital communications of millions. It then relied on its content-sensitive dictionaries of keywords and phrases to scour the communications for relevant information.
In February of 2000, 60 Minutes published a report detailing the existence and scope of ECHELON. Mike Frost, a former spy for Canada’s NSA-equivalent, CSE, told the host just how large the program’s reach really was, “Echelon covers everything that’s radiated worldwide at any given instant.”
Frost also recounted a tale of how exactly the program was being used.
While I was at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a–a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, ‘Oh, Danny really bombed last night,’ just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w–was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist.
Details of ECHELON outraged Europeans in the months following the reports from Campbell and 60 Minutes. In the summer of 2000, European Parliament appointed a special ad-hoc committee to spend a year investigating ECHELON, with some arguing that by spying on European communications, the U.S. was breaching the European Convention on Human Rights. Little materialized from the committee, other than a vote recognizing the program’s mere existence.
Following the 2005 discovery that the Bush Administration had been tapping Americans’ phones without warrants, some speculatively pointed to ECHELON as a tool that the government may have been using.
Since then, the program has largely been presented to the public only through posts on government surveillance/conspiracy forums with limited references in declassified documents to guide those questioning the program’s full potential.
It has largely faded from public consciousness, especially as details of its far more powerful offspring have been exposed, but it’s important to frame automated government surveillance as an issue of our lifetimes rather than short-sightedly confining its influence to the advent of the mainstream internet.
It is now abundantly clear, thanks to internal documents leaked by Snowden, that the program exists, but what is unclear is what that means. PRISM and XKeyscore certainly represent a more shocking invasion of the information we have digitally presented, but ECHELON shows us that the privacy of our communications have indeed always been under attack.
These instances of government surveillance have been justified by decades of disparate “threats” under multiple administrations that have repeatedly made promises to “prioritize privacy without compromising security,” while we all have been led by the current narratives.
As the broken record continues to play, further examining ECHELON suggests the importance of looking to the past to remember what sounds familiar.
II. PRISM Program: Here is all you need to know about it
Last updated: June 1, 2022
The post explains the PRISM program in detail to you alongside providing you with some practical ways to escape this mighty spying.
In 2013 the Washington Post revealed the existence of a secret act called the Prism program. This information was leaked by militarization, who was a private contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton.
The leak was a massive shock in the U.S and around the world. Booz Allen compiled slides detailing how the National Security Agency (NSA) body got direct access to tech servers and pulled out information.
Big tech and internet firms such as Microsoft, Apple, Verizon, Yahoo, AT&T, Google, etc. cooperate with the NSA by giving direct access to their servers. The Guardian also published similar news about the National security Agency’s privacy (NSA) intrusion.
However, the PRISM program’s purpose was not well defined due to the Tech and Internet corporations’ constant denial and contradictions. That has led to the confusion of so many individuals and organizations that really cared about privacy.
Like we said before, the aim of the NSA PRISM program is gathering information from tech organizations. But the tech companies have been vehemently denying it. The actual objective of the Prism program and how the Government collects information is shrouded in secrecy. However, we have dug deep to provide detailed information about the PRISM program.
Some people still think that the NSA can’t wield such powers. Others believe the PRISM program is real. This article would provide you with all the information you need to know about the NSA PRISM Program.
Separating truth from the myths about the Prism Program
The PRISM program aims at gaining direct access to the communication of users. The information includes email communication, voice calls, SMS, social media communications, metadata, video calls, search preference, etc. The constitution governs this unlimited access to information by the NSA through the PRISM program.
Section 702 of the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Acts), which became law in 2008, allows the Prism Program to gain direct access to the servers of Tech Companies. Since then, the United States government has drastically increased intelligent bodies’ ability to gain local and foreign information.
The intelligent bodies can investigate the retrieved information targeting terrorist, criminals, and even those not suspected of anything. Formerly the NSA was unable to obtain information from people living outside of the USA.
However, that has changed with the PRISM program formation. It does not matter what you do, where you live, whether you commit a crime or not, the NSA can access your personal information.
Why Was PRISM Created
PRISM Act of 2007 is an electronic data collection that aims at protecting the USA according to the NSA. It was a top-secret and advanced surveillance program of the NSA.
The PRISM program had a code-named US-984XN. According to the leak presentation, the NSA claimed that it launched the program to overcome the FISA warrant’s pitfalls. The FISA warrant is in charge of tracking down and prosecuting foreign terrorists.
But court mandates were needed before they can access and investigate the information of suspected criminals. The NSA wanted to overcome this challenge and have the flexibility of tracking down anyone when the body wants. Furthermore, the NSA noted that the USA has advantages in tracking down terrorists because most of the big tech companies reside in the U.S.
Aside from having the biggest tech companies the US also has most of the internet infrastructure. Therefore the NSA took advantage of the US technological might to create the PRISM program. It targets both the sender and receiver, whether based in the US or not.
The NSA disbanded FISA because it protected some people that are not bounded by the FISA law. FISA must go to court and get orders before gaining access to the communications of foreigners. Therefore the PRISM program was formed, which was a significant upgrade to the FISA. No court order is required to gain access to information by the NSA.
The PRISM program act further gives the attorney general and the director of national intelligence the power to prosecute telecommunications companies that fail to comply with PRISM. It also indemnifies Tech and internet organizations any consequences of granting the NSA access to user’s information.
FBI acting as the intermediary
The leaked document states that the FBI is the primary intermediary between tech companies and the various intelligence agencies. In the leaked documents, the National security Agency hailed the PRISM act as one of the most productive, unique, and most valuable assets to the NSA.
It boasts about how the FBI was able to gather information from tech companies. It also boasts about how the number of obtained communications from Skype astronomically rose to 248% as far back as 2012. The information gathered from Facebook rose by 131%, while Google rose by 63%.
When the NSA gathers information through the FBI, it reviews the communications, and if it warrants further investigations, the NSA will issue a “Report.” According to the leaked document, the NSA generates more than 2000 PRISM program-based reports monthly.
How NSA PRISM Collects data
The PRISM program activities are shrouded in secrecy, which is not also helped by the constant denial of tech companies. But from what we know and also from leaked documents, the PRISM program relies on two aspects for its data collection.
Number one is section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), while the second one is in section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. The PRISM program law authorizes security agencies to retrieve communications and metadata from telecommunication companies like AT&T, Verizon, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and every other telecommunication and internet company.
The secret law further allows security agencies to collect information and analyze them for up to five years. The program uses a lot of sophisticated tools for information gathering. One of them is the NUCLEON, which gathers information that is related to telephone conversations and SMS.
Another one is MARINA, which stores metadata from the internet. And lastly, PRISM has another tool known as the Signals intelligence Activity Designation (SIGADs), which gathers information from every other system. The PRISM further targets a targeted person’s mobile contact, which can cause an unjustified investigation of innocent people.
What do the telecommunication and internet companies say about PRISM?
All the companies that partake in the PRISM program have vehemently denied the accusation. But no one really expects them to come in public and agree that they share user’s information with the FBI, CIA, and other intelligent bodies anyway. In the past, Larry Page publicly said that any claim that Google compromises its user’s privacy is entirely not valid.
Google’s chief architect Yonatan Zunger has also stated that the only time Google can provide users with information to security authority is when the organization receives specific and lawful orders about the agencies.
He said Google couldn’t disclose user’s information to the PRISM program on such a magnitude. He further stated that he would have quit his role as the Chief Architect of Google if such ever happened.
What about Yahoo? Yahoo’s Ron Bell wrote that the assertion that yahoo compromises its users’ privacy and gives out information to security agencies is false. He said Yahoo does not give users information and communications to any federal agencies. It does not also provide any platform for federal agencies to have access to unfiltered communication.
What did Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg say
He said the PRISM program report is outrageous and that Facebook has not and would not participate in any program that would grant federal agencies direct access to its servers.
According to him, Facebook only complies with lawful orders for requests about specific identifiers or orders.
Microsoft has vehemently denied that they participated in the PRISM program.
In a statement, the organization said they never have and would not compromise user’s information irrespective of the body demanding for such information.
They will not comply if any US agency has a broad program to retrieve information from its servers. Steve Dowling further stated that Microsoft has never heard of the PRISM program and does not directly access its servers to the Government. They will only provide customer’s records through court orders according to him.
Are the telecommunication/internet companies telling the truth?
It is evident that the internet and telecommunication companies are telling lies. Firstly no organization would come out publicly to agree that they shared user’s information with any intelligence agency.
Accepting they share user’s information would lead to boycott, which would be devastating to their organizations. Initially, many people believe that these internet communication companies were sincere. But the leak came out and made everyone understand how powerful the PRISM program is.
There have also been a lot of controversies here and there, which further proves that the tech companies are not sincere. In a statement by Google’s current CEO, Sundar Pichai, he said that Google only responds to orders about some individuals. This statement proves to some extent that Google participates in the PRISM program.
Yahoo’s Bell has also stated in the past that they send only a tiny percentage of customer’s information to security agencies. This statement sounds like a damage control mechanism, and it really proves that Yahoo also participates in the PRISM program.
How big was the leak?
Never in the NSA’s history has there been a leak as massive as the PRISM program leak. The leak documents first sufficed in April 2013, and such a leak is uncommon in the history of the NSA.
The NSA is the world’s largest surveillance organization, and it prides itself on maintaining the highest form of secrecy. Therefore the leak was a massive shock to everyone. This program allowed them to obtain information from tech companies without court orders.
Should we be worried that the NSA gets unfiltered access to the user’s information
Many internet and telecommunication corporations have systems that give access to intelligence agencies. This information can also be electronically transmitted to other Government institutions through the company servers.
Companies are obliged to provide information due to the constitutional backing of PRISM. The program has left many American’s confused, concerned, and feeling a great lack of control over their privacy.
The majority of people think that their personal data is no more secure. Although data collection through PRISM has its benefits, especially in the investigation of crimes.
But the disadvantages clearly outweigh the advantages, and many people also believe that it is impossible to live daily without any form of tracking. This view is shared by at least 6 in every 10 American citizens. Americans no longer feel confident in the manner tech companies handle and transmit their personal information.
The NSA PRISM has unfiltered access to telecom servers, and there are lots of questions to be asked. Is the information subject to the appropriate judicial procedure? They don’t because the PRISM information gathering is not a search warrant under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
Also, the amendment does not require intelligence agencies to show that a target is either a criminal or not. This implies that the PRISM data collection system can target anybody irrespective of who you are. This is a great concern for the public because it can be used for political and business advantages by corrupt officials.
Which companies are involved?
Google, Yahoo, AOL, Apple, Skype, Vodacom, AT&T, YouTube, PalTalk, Dropbox (a popular US-based file hosting service) are among the most prominent companies involved in PRISM. However, all telecommunication and IT companies in the USA must cooperate with PRISM. But the leaked documents state that 98% of the information gathered through PRISM comes from Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo.
All the major companies involved in PRISM have publicly denied the allegations stating that no external or Government agencies have access to their servers. However, it is clear from the leak that the NSA gains direct access to tech company servers to pull out information anytime.
What do the defenders of PRISM say?
PRISM Defendants have stated that the program targets foreign users, and PRISM doesn’t gain access until they make a request. The New York times said in the last two instances of the PRISM data request, organizations created a secure dropbox storage where they electronically deposit specific information for the intelligence agencies.
In the past, Google also wrote a letter to the Department of Justice, seeking permission to disclose how PRISM works. Facebook also wanted permission to provide transparency on how the PRISM program works to enable people to see the true picture.
They got the approval, and Google discussed with Wired Magazine the different ways it passes legal information to the Government. Google insisted that it never gave intelligence body direct access to its servers for information gathering.
Why is Twitter not mentioned
No one has been able to answer if twitter cooperates with the PRISM program because the leak did not make mention of twitter in any way.
It seems to some that Twitter said no and refused to corporate with the NSA PRISM program.
However, the PRISM program is backed by the constitution, which means twitter and other tech companies are obliged to corporate.
All companies in the USA are obligated to comply with federal laws, and Twitter must comply if the Government request of data. But twitter is under no legal obligation to make the process of information gathering easy for any Government organization.
From all indication, it seems twitter made the process of information gathering from their servers complicated for NSA. While other companies changed their system to transmit data to government agencies effectively and also discussed technical methods of information gathering, twitter held their grounds and made the process very difficult. Twitter refused to join the bandwagon in steamrolling the information gathering process.
What type of data does the PRISM monitor?
According to the leak slides and other supporting documents published by the Washington Post and the Guardian alongside all other trusted sources till date, the monitored data include the following.
Social network details
Social media chats
Any other means of communication
Additionally, data that Google and Microsoft share include Drive files, live surveillance, entire photo library, video chat, voice chats, metadata, information about who is talking to who, search terms, etc.
What about the information on private servers and the cloud?
It does not matter if your information is on shared, dedicated, or private servers; it is not safe if it is online. Simple.
Aside from the fact that Google, Bing, and other search engines crawl users’ emails and other data to target their ads, the PRISM program can have access to your email for use by the NSA.
This means third parties may have read your emails. The NSA and other intelligence bodies may have also read your iCloud emails and other third party system emails.
What is the difference between the PRISM program and the data Verizon gives to the NSA?
According to the constitution, every telecommunication and internet company must provide information to federal agencies. However, the data Verizon gives to the NSA is different from the PRISM program.
Verizon gives only metadata to Government security agencies, which means they can see who you call and how long the call lasts, but they do not listen to your communication. They don’t listen to your voice mails as well. But this is a separate NSA program, and the PRISM program is more robust.
Has the PRISM program affected the USA Freedom ranking
According to freedom ranking, the USA ranked second most internet free country on earth before the PRISM program leak. But the U.S. position has drastically changed after the leak.
Freedom ranking started in 2015 by Civil liberties. It is an independent body run by Germany’s Liberales Institute, the U.S. Cato Institute, and Canada Fraser Institute. The index measures freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of movement, etc.
It’s rating measures from a scale of 10 to 0. In the last rating done in 2019, the U.S. dropped down to number 15 on the list. People thought that the PRISM program significantly contributed to pushing down the United States.
Is there a way to avoid the PRISM program?
There is no way you can avoid the PRISM program, whether you are an American citizen or not. That is the hard truth.
It is because American companies own the biggest tech companies. Organizations like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, and other major tech giants all have their servers resident in the US even though they have servers in other locations.
This means intelligence bodies can target your information whether you are a US citizen or not. Almost everyone around the world has an account with one or more of the above-listed tech companies. So technically, no one can avoid the PRISM program.
Ironically Microsoft ran an advertisement program with the catchphrase “Your Privacy is our Priority.” They were still the first organization to grant the NSA direct access to their servers through the PRISM program. Microsoft began giving direct access to their servers as far back as 2007.
Yahoo was next in line and gave the NSA direct access in 2008. Next were PalTalk, Facebook, and Google in 2009. YouTube gave access in 2010, AOL, and Skype in 2011. Finally, Apple obliged in 2012. The PRISM program keeps expanding as each day goes by, and many other medium-sized and multinational tech companies have joined the bandwagon.
So, one cannot get away from the PRISM program completely. But you can minimize the likelihood of Five Eyes, NSA, and other organizations tracking your voice traffic and internet activities.
The best thing you can do to escape PRISM is masking your IP address with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). However, the infamous free anonymizing tool Tor also lets you achieve that, but VPN is the safest and most reliable way of doing it.
A VPN client will encrypt your internet traffic and send it to another location where it would get decrypted. When you have a quality VPN service on, the NSA could see some traffic traveling through the tunnel, but it won’t be able to separate your internet traffic from others.
It would help if you also considered ditching tech giants to avoid the PRISM program. That can be harder for many, as most of us rely on Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook in our daily lives.
What you can do here is, try using secure alternatives to the services offered by those tech giants. For example, instead of using Gmail, you should better use some secure email providers.
Concerning searching online, you can live without Google. Yes, that is true. Few people apprehend that plenty of exceptional secure alternative search engines exist out there. If you ask us, at the top of our list is the intelligently dubbed DuckDuckGo.
Encrypting your data is another useful way of minimizing data exposure to the PRISM program. TrueCrypt alternatives available in the market will do this task for you.
Who do you blame for the PRISM program?
People frown at data breach because it puts their private information in the hands of third parties. They see what you read, what you say, your videos, your search, your mails, and much other information about you.
However, the Government claims that the PRISM program targets criminals, but the negatives far outweigh the positives. People no longer have freedom on the internet because of fear of data breach.
So who should be blamed for the PRISM program? First of all, blame it on the congress for legislating such powers to the intelligence agencies.
Secondly, blame it on the FISA court that passed the PRISM act to law and, lastly, blames it on the Government for discarding the true values of the American society.
What did the Government do about the leak?
There were diplomatic rows after the leak, which led to the prosecution of the people responsible for the leak. However, the Government cannot retrieve the information contained in the slide. Edward Snowden was one of the major sources of the leak, but he fled to Hong Kong.
In an interview with the Guardian, he stated that he fled to Hong Kong because of its perceived freedom. Hong Kong ranks number one on the Freedom index list with an impressive score of 8.91. The Freedom index measures a scale from 10 most free to 0 least free nations worldwide. He said people had the freedom of speech over in Hong Kong, and he intends to exercise that.
Although the United States has a bilateral agreement with Hong Kong on extradition. However, extraditing someone based on political grounds should more likely be vetoed by either Beijing or Hong Kong.
The PRISM program is the National security Agency tool used in obtaining information directly from tech companies. Companies such as Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and other Tech/information communication giants are all obliged to grant access to the NSA through the PRISM program.
It was was a top-secret before it got leaked and reported. The NSA gained access to information such as emails, calls, SMS, video, search history, chats, metadata, and just about a communication type through the PRISM program. According to the leaked document, it gets direct access to the servers of tech companies.
However, all the tech companies have denied this allegation even though the leaked documents expose the huge data privacy issue. Defenders of the PRISM program would always say that the act facilitates surveillance and protects the US. However, the PRISM program clearly violates the user’s privacy and poses a significant risk.
The program also targets people who live outside the USA. This means that it can spy on almost everyone. It is an unprecedented militarization of international and local communication infrastructure that significantly threatens freedom of the internet.
The PRISM program troubles anyone concerned about their privacy. But the reality is you cannot do much as an internet user rather than only minimizing your exposure to it. Taking care of your digital privacy by using a VPN, a private search engine, and encrypting your computer data are your best defenses in a continuous tussle against the PRISM program.
III. (from Wikipedia) XKeyscore (XKEYSCORE or XKS) is a secret computer system used by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) for searching and analyzing global Internet data, which it collects in real time. The NSA has shared XKeyscore with other intelligence agencies, including the Australian Signals Directorate, Canada’s Communications Security Establishment, New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, Japan’s Defense Intelligence Headquarters, and Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst.
In July 2013, Edward Snowden publicly revealed the program’s purpose and use by the NSA in The Sydney Morning Herald and O Globo newspapers. The code name was already public knowledge because it was mentioned in earlier articles, and, like many other code names, it appears in job postings and online résumés of employees.
On July 3, 2014, German public broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk, a member of ARD, published excerpts of XKeyscore’s source code. A team of experts analyzed the source code.
1 Scope and functioning
1.1 According to Snowden and Greenwald
1.2 According to the NSA
2.1 Data sources
2.2 Types of XKeyscore
3 Contribution to U.S. security
4 Usage by foreign partners of the NSA
5 See also
7 External links
Scope and functioning
Part of a series on
Origins Pre-2013 2013–present Reactions
XKeyscore PRISM ECHELON Carnivore Dishfire Stone Ghost Tempora Frenchelon Fairview MYSTIC DCSN Boundless Informant Bullrun Pinwale Stingray SORM RAMPART-A Mastering the Internet Jindalee Operational Radar Network
NSA R&AW CSE BND CNI ASIO DGSE Five Eyes FSB MSS GCHQ
Michael S. Rogers Keith Alexander James Bamford James Clapper Duncan Campbell Edward Snowden Russ Tice George W. Bush Barack Obama Julian Assange
The Doughnut Fort Meade Menwith Hill Pine Gap Southern Cross Cable Utah Data Center Bad Aibling Station Dagger Complex GCHQ Bude
UKUSA Agreement Lustre U.S.
USA Freedom Act FISA amendments EU
Data Retention Directive Data Protection Directive GDPR China
National Intelligence Law Cybersecurity Law UK
Investigatory Powers Act 2016
FISA Improvements Act Other proposals
Mass surveillance Culture of fear Secure communication SIGINT Call detail record Surveillance issues in smart cities
Espionage Intelligence agency Cryptography
Tor VPNs TLS Human rights
Privacy Liberty Satellites Stop Watching Us Nothing to hide argument
XKeyscore is a complicated system, and various authors have different interpretations of its actual capabilities. Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald explained XKeyscore as being a system which enables almost unlimited surveillance of anyone anywhere in the world, while the NSA has said that usage of the system is limited and restricted.
According to The Washington Post and national security reporter Marc Ambinder, XKeyscore is an NSA data-retrieval system which consists of a series of user interfaces, backend databases, servers and software that selects certain types of data and metadata that the NSA has already collected using other methods.
According to Snowden and Greenwald
On January 26, 2014, the German broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk asked Edward Snowden in its TV interview: “What could you do if you would use XKeyscore?” and he answered:
You could read anyone’s email in the world, anybody you’ve got an email address for. Any website: You can watch traffic to and from it. Any computer that an individual sits at: You can watch it. Any laptop that you’re tracking: you can follow it as it moves from place to place throughout the world. It’s a one-stop-shop for access to the NSA’s information. … You can tag individuals … Let’s say you work at a major German corporation and I want access to that network, I can track your username on a website on a forum somewhere, I can track your real name, I can track associations with your friends and I can build what’s called a fingerprint, which is network activity unique to you, which means anywhere you go in the world, anywhere you try to sort of hide your online presence, your identity.
According to The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, low-level NSA analysts can, via systems like XKeyscore, “listen to whatever emails they want, whatever telephone calls, browsing histories, Microsoft Word documents. And it’s all done with no need to go to a court, with no need to even get supervisor approval on the part of the analyst.”
He added that the NSA’s database of collected communications allows its analysts to listen “to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered, and it also alerts them to any further activity that people connected to that email address or that IP address do in the future”.
According to the NSA
Further information: SIGINT
In an official statement from July 30, 2013, the NSA said “XKeyscore is used as a part of NSA’s lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system. …” to legally obtain information about “legitimate foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements that our leaders need for information necessary to protect our nation and its interests. … to collect the information, that enables us to perform our missions successfully – to defend the nation and to protect U.S. and allied troops abroad.” In terms of access, an NSA press statement reads that there is no “unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data. Access to XKeyscore, as well as all of NSA’s analytic tools, is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks.” and that there are “…stringent oversight and compliance mechanisms built in at several levels. One feature is the system’s ability to limit what an analyst can do with a tool, based on the source of the collection and each analyst’s defined responsibilities.”
Slide from a 2008 NSA presentation about XKeyscore, showing a world map with the locations of XKeyscore servers.
Slide from a 2008 NSA presentation about XKeyscore, showing the query hierarchy.
According to an NSA slide presentation about XKeyscore from 2013, it is a “DNI Exploitation System/Analytic Framework”. DNI stands for Digital Network Intelligence, which means intelligence derived from internet traffic.
Edward Snowden said about XKeyscore: “It’s a front end search engine” in an interview with the German Norddeutscher Rundfunk.
XKeyscore is a “piece of Linux software that is typically deployed on Red Hat servers. It uses the Apache web server and stores collected data in MySQL databases”.
XKeyscore is considered a “passive” program, in that it listens, but does not transmit anything on the networks that it targets. But it can trigger other systems, which perform “active” attacks through Tailored Access Operations which are “tipping”, for example, the QUANTUM family of programs, including QUANTUMINSERT, QUANTUMHAND, QUANTUMTHEORY, QUANTUMBOT and QUANTUMCOPPER and Turbulence. These run at so-called “defensive sites” including the Ramstein Air Force base in Germany, Yokota Air Base in Japan, and numerous military and non-military locations within the US. Trafficthief, a core program of Turbulence, can alert NSA analysts when their targets communicate, and trigger other software programs, so select data is “promoted” from the local XKeyscore data store to the NSA’s “corporate repositories” for long term storage.
XKeyscore consists of over 700 servers at approximately 150 sites where the NSA collects data, like “US and allied military and other facilities as well as US embassies and consulates” in many countries around the world. Among the facilities involved in the program are four bases in Australia and one in New Zealand.
According to an NSA presentation from 2008, these XKeyscore servers are fed with data from the following collection systems:
F6 (Special Collection Service) – joint operation of the CIA and NSA that carries out clandestine operations including espionage on foreign diplomats and leaders
FORNSAT – which stands for “foreign satellite collection”, and refers to intercepts from satellites
SSO (Special Source Operations) – a division of the NSA that cooperates with telecommunication providers
In a single, undated slide published by Swedish media in December 2013, the following additional data sources for XKeyscore are mentioned:
Overhead – intelligence derived from American spy planes, drones and satellites
Tailored Access Operations – a division of the NSA that deals with hacking and cyberwarfare
FISA – all types of surveillance approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
Third party – foreign partners of the NSA such as the (signals) intelligence agencies of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, etc. However the Netherlands is out of any cooperation concerning intelligence gathering and sharing for illegal spying.
From these sources, XKeyscore stores “full-take data”, which are indexed by plug-ins that extract certain types of metadata (like phone numbers, e-mail addresses, log-ins, and user activity) and index them in metadata tables, which can be queried by analysts. XKeyscore has been integrated with MARINA, which is NSA’s database for internet metadata.
However, the system continuously gets so much Internet data that it can be stored only for short periods of time. Content data remain on the system for only three to five days, while metadata is stored for up to thirty days. A detailed commentary on an NSA presentation published in The Guardian in July 2013 cites a document published in 2008 declaring that “At some sites, the amount of data we receive per day (20+ terabytes) can only be stored for as little as 24 hours.”
Types of XKeyscore
According to a document from an internal GCHQ website which was disclosed by the German magazine Der Spiegel in June 2014, there are three different types of the Xkeyscore system:
Traditional: The initial version of XKeyscore is fed with data from low-rate data signals, after being processed by the WEALTHYCLUSTER system. This traditional version is not only used by NSA but also at many intercept sites of GCHQ.
Stage 2: This version of XKeyscore is used for higher data rates. The data are first processed by the TURMOIL system, which sends 5% of the internet data packets to XKeyscore. GCHQ only uses this version for its collection under the MUSCULAR program.
Deep Dive: This latest version can process internet traffic at data rates of 10 gigabits per second. Data that could be useful for intelligence purposes are then selected and forwarded by using the “GENESIS selection language”. GCHQ also operates a number of Deep Dive versions of XKeyscore at three locations under the codename TEMPORA.
Slide from a 2008 NSA presentation about XKeyscore, showing the differences between the various NSA database systems
For analysts, XKeyscore provides a “series of viewers for common data types”, which allows them to query terabytes of raw data gathered at the aforementioned collection sites. This enables them to find targets that cannot be found by searching only the metadata, and also to do this against data sets that otherwise would have been dropped by the front-end data processing systems. According to a slide from an XKeyscore presentation, NSA collection sites select and forward less than 5% of the internet traffic to the PINWALE database for internet content.
Because XKeyscore holds raw and unselected communications traffic, analysts can not only perform queries using “strong selectors” like e-mail addresses, but also using “soft selectors”, like keywords, against the body texts of e-mail and chat messages and digital documents and spreadsheets in English, Arabic and Chinese.
This is useful because “a large amount of time spent on the web is performing actions that are anonymous” and therefore those activities can’t be found by just looking for e-mail addresses of a target. When content has been found, the analyst might be able to find new intelligence or a strong selector, which can then be used for starting a traditional search.
Besides using soft selectors, analysts can also use the following other XKeyscore capabilities:
Look for the usage of Google Maps and terms entered into a search engine by known targets looking for suspicious things or places.
Look for “anomalies” without any specific person attached, like detecting the nationality of foreigners by analyzing the language used within intercepted emails. An example would be a German speaker in Pakistan. The Brazilian paper O Globo claims that this has been applied to Latin America and specifically to Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela.
Detect people who use encryption by doing searches like “all PGP usage in Iran”. The caveat given is that very broad queries can result in too much data to transmit back to the analyst.
Showing the usage of virtual private networks (VPNs) and machines that can potentially be hacked via TAO.
Track the source and authorship of a document that has passed through many hands.
On July 3, 2014 ARD revealed that XKeyscore is used to closely monitor users of the Tor anonymity network, people who search for privacy-enhancing software on the web, and readers of Linux Journal.
The Guardian revealed in 2013 that most of these things cannot be detected by other NSA tools, because they operate with strong selectors (like e-mail and IP addresses and phone numbers) and the raw data volumes are too high to be forwarded to other NSA databases.
In 2008, NSA planned to add a number of new capabilities in the future, like VoIP, more networking protocols[clarify], Exif tags, which often include geolocation (GPS) data.
Contribution to U.S. security
The NSA slides published in The Guardian during 2013 claimed that XKeyscore had played a role in capturing 300 terrorists by 2008, which could not be substantiated as the redacted documents do not cite instances of terrorist interventions.
A 2011 report from the NSA unit in the Dagger Complex (close to Griesheim in Germany) said that XKeyscore made it easier and more efficient to target surveillance. Previously, analysis often accessed data NSA was not interested in. XKeyscore allowed them to focus on the intended topics, while ignoring unrelated data. XKeyscore also proved to be outstanding for tracking active groups associated with the Anonymous movement in Germany, because it allows for searching on patterns, rather than particular individuals. An analyst is able to determine when targets research new topics, or develop new behaviors.
To create additional motivation, the NSA incorporated various gamification features. For instance, analysts who were especially good at using XKeyscore could acquire “skilz” points and “unlock achievements.” The training units in Griesheim were apparently successful and analysts there had achieved the “highest average of skilz points” compared with all other NSA departments participating in the training program.
Usage by foreign partners of the NSA
Excerpt of an NSA document leaked by Edward Snowden that reveals the BND’s usage of the NSA’s XKeyscore to wiretap a German domestic target.
According to documents Der Spiegel acquired from Snowden, the German intelligence agencies BND (foreign intelligence) and BfV (domestic intelligence) were also allowed to use the XKeyscore system. In those documents the BND agency was described as the NSA’s most prolific partner in information gathering. This led to political confrontations, after which the directors of the German intelligence agencies briefed members of the German parliamentary intelligence oversight committee on July 25, 2013. They declared that XKeyscore has been used by the BND since 2007 and that the BfV has been using a test version since 2012. The directors also explained that the program is not for collecting data, but rather only for the analysis of collected data.
As part of the UKUSA Agreement, a secret treaty was signed in 1954 by Sweden with the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (called the Five Eyes) for the purpose of intelligence collaboration and data sharing. According to documents leaked by Snowden, the National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) has been granted access to XKeyscore.
In an ongoing scandal, where it has been revealed that NSA helped FE (Danish Military Intelligence Service) build a new Spy datacenter at Sandagergård, Amager, Xkeyscore has been made available for FE to use on the collected data.
The classified documents leaked by Snowden also indicate that in April 2013, NSA had secretly provided the XKeyscore system to the Japanese government.
flagUnited States portal iconPolitics portal
List of government surveillance projects
File:XKeyscore presentation from 2008.pdf, a redacted presentation about X-Keyscore via The Guardian (UK) via Edward Snowden via U.S. National Security Agency
Seipel, Hubert (January 26, 2014). “Snowden Interview: Transcript”. Norddeutscher Rundfunk. p. 3. Archived from the original on January 28, 2014. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
Greenwald, Glenn; Ackerman, Spencer (June 27, 2013). “How the NSA Is Still Harvesting Your Online Data – Files Show Vast Scale of Current NSA Metadata Programs, with One Stream Alone Celebrating ‘One Trillion Records Processed'”. The Guardian. Archived from the original on August 4, 2013. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
Layne, Ken (June 18, 2013). “Job Networking Site LinkedIn Filled With Secret NSA Program Names”. Archived from the original on December 8, 2017. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
“xkeyscorerules100”. Panorama. ARD (broadcaster). July 3, 2014. Archived from the original on July 7, 2014. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
Jacob Appelbaum, A. Gibson, J. Goetz, V. Kabisch, L. Kampf, L. Ryge (July 3, 2014). “NSA targets the privacy-conscious”. Panorama. Norddeutscher Rundfunk. Archived from the original on July 3, 2014. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
Nakashima, Ellen (July 31, 2013). “Newly Declassified Documents on Phone Records Program Released”. The Washington Post. Archived from the original on July 2, 2014. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
Fisher, Max (August 1, 2013). “Is XKeyscore Still Active? Defense Contractor Posted a Job Listing for it 2 weeks Ago”. WorldViews, blog of The Washington Post. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
Rea, Kari (July 28, 2013). “Glenn Greenwald: Low-Level NSA Analysts Have ‘Powerful and Invasive’ Search Tool”. ABC News. Archived from the original on July 30, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2013.
Wills, Amanda (August 1, 2013). “New Snowden Leak: NSA Program Taps All You Do Online”. Mashable (via CNN). Archived from the original on August 4, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2013.
NSA Press Statement on 30 July 2013 Archived August 1, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
Staff (July 31, 2013). “XKeyscore Presentation from 2008 – Read in Full”. The Guardian. Archived from the original on August 1, 2013. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
“Snowden Interview Transcript”. Norddeutscher Rundfunk. n.d. Archived from the original on January 28, 2014. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
Lee, Micah; Greenwald, Glenn; Marquis-Boire, Morgan (July 2, 2015). “A Look at the Inner Workings of NSA’s XKEYSCORE”. The Intercept. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
Staff (c. 2013). “No alvo dos EUA – O big-brother na América Latina e no mundo” [The U.S. Targets – Big Brother in Latin America and in the World]. O Globo (in Portuguese). Archived from the original on July 12, 2013. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
Dorling, Philip (July 8, 2013). “Snowden Reveals Australia’s Links to US Spy Web”. The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on August 10, 2013. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
Greenwald, Glenn; Casado, Roberto Kaz e José (July 6, 2013). “EUA expandem o aparato de vigilância continuamente – Software de vigilância usa mais de 700 servidores espalhados pelo mundo”. O Globo (in Portuguese). Archived from the original on July 10, 2013. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
Ambinder, Marc (July 31, 2013). “What’s XKEYSCORE?”. The Compass (blog of The Week). Archived from the original on January 30, 2014. Retrieved August 4, 2013.
Gunnar Rensfeldt. “Read the Snowden Documents From the NSA”. Sveriges Television. Archived from the original on February 9, 2014. Retrieved December 21, 2013.
See also: 3 slides about the XKeyscore program Archived February 2, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
Greenwald, Glenn (July 31, 2013).”XKeyscore: NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’ – XKeyscore Gives ‘Widest-Reaching’ Collection of Online Data – NSA Analysts Require No Prior Authorization for Searches – Sweeps Up Emails, Social Media Activity and Browsing History” Archived December 31, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. The Guardian. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
XKeyscoreTabs XKS Development Archived June 30, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, published by Der Spiegel on June 18, 2014
Der Spiegel: GCHQ report on the technical abilities of the powerful spying program TEMPORA, which allows for a “full take” Archived June 5, 2019, at the Wayback Machine
Gallagher, Sean (August 1, 2013). “NSA’s Internet Taps Can Find Systems to Hack, Track VPNs and Word Docs – X-Keyscore Gives NSA the Ability to Find and Exploit Vulnerable Systems”. Ars Technica. Archived from the original on August 4, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2013.
Greenwald, Glenn; Casado, Roberto Kaz e José (July 13, 2013). “Espionagem dos EUA se espalhou pela América Latina – Depois do Brasil, Colômbia foi o país mais vigiado – Venezuela também entrou na mira de programas americanos” [U.S. Spying Spread Through Latin America – After Brazil, Colombia Was the Country’s Most Watched – Venezuela Also Came in the Crosshairs of U.S. Programs]. O Globo (in Portuguese). Archived from the original on July 15, 2013. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
Kyle Rankin (July 3, 2014). “NSA: Linux Journal is an “extremist forum” and its readers get flagged for extra surveillance”. Archived from the original on July 3, 2014. Retrieved July 3, 2014.
Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark, Ally and Target: US Intelligence Watches Germany Closely Archived August 20, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, August 12, 2013.
Staff (July 20, 2013). “‘Prolific Partner’: German Intelligence Used NSA Spy Program” Archived July 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Der Spiegel. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
Top Level Telecommunications, New slides about NSA collection programs Archived July 26, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, July 16, 2013
“Cold War treaty confirms Sweden was not neutral”. The Local. Archived from the original on December 11, 2013. Retrieved December 12, 2013.
Gunnar Rensfeldt. “Read the Snowden Documents From the NSA”. Sveriges Television. Archived from the original on February 9, 2014. Retrieved December 12, 2013.
“Ny afsløring: FE masseindsamler oplysninger om danskere gennem avanceret spionsystem”. DR (in Danish). September 24, 2020. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
Ryan Gallagher (April 24, 2017). “Japan made secret deals with the NSA that expanded global surveillance”. Archived from the original on April 24, 2017. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to XKeyscore.
A full NSA presentation about XKeyscore from 2008
Building a panopticon: The evolution of the NSA’s XKeyscore
Marquis-Boire, Morgan; Greenwald, Glenn; Lee, Micah (July 1, 2015). “XKEYSCORE: NSA’s Google for the World’s Private Communications”. The Intercept. Retrieved July 5, 2015.
Lee, Micah; Greenwald, Glenn; Marquis-Boire, Morgan (July 2, 2015). “Behind the Curtain; A Look at the Inner Workings of NSA’s XKEYSCORE”. The Intercept. Retrieved July 5, 2015.
IV. Palantir Technologies
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Founded 2003; 19 years ago
Founders Peter Thiel, Nathan Gettings, Joe Lonsdale, Stephen Cohen, Alex Karp
Headquarters Denver, Colorado, U.S.
Peter Thiel (Chairperson)
Alex Karp (CEO)
Revenue Increase US$1.541 billion (2021)a
Increase US$-488.494 million (2021)a
Increase US$-520.379 million (2021)a
Total assets Increase US$3.247 billion (2021)a
Total equity Increase US$2.291 billion (2021)a
Number of employees
Increase 2,920 (2021)a
Footnotes / references
a 2021 Form 10-K 
Palantir Technologies is a public American software company that specializes in big data analytics. Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, it was founded by Peter Thiel, Nathan Gettings, Joe Lonsdale, Stephen Cohen, and Alex Karp in 2003. The company’s name is derived from The Lord of the Rings where the magical palantíri were “seeing-stones,” described as indestructible balls of crystal used for communication and to see events in other parts of the world.
The company is known for three projects in particular: Palantir Gotham, Palantir Apollo, and Palantir Foundry. Palantir Gotham is used by counter-terrorism analysts at offices in the United States Intelligence Community (USIC) and United States Department of Defense. In the past, Gotham was used by fraud investigators at the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, a former US federal agency which operated from 2009 to 2015. Gotham was also used by cyber analysts at Information Warfare Monitor, a Canadian public-private venture which operated from 2003 to 2012. Palantir Apollo is the operating system for continuous delivery and deployment across all environments. Their SaaS is one of five offerings authorized for Mission Critical National Security Systems (IL5) by the U.S. Department of Defense. Palantir Foundry is used by corporate clients such as Morgan Stanley, Merck KGaA, Airbus, Wejo, Lilium, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.
Palantir’s original clients were federal agencies of the USIC. It has since expanded its customer base to serve state and local governments, as well as private companies in the financial and healthcare industries.
1.1 2003–2008: Founding and early years
1.2 2009: GhostNet and the Shadow Network
1.3 2010–2012: Expansion
1.4 2013–2016: Additional funding
2.1 Palantir Gotham
2.2 Palantir Metropolis
2.3 Palantir Apollo
2.4 Palantir Foundry
3.1 Corporate use
3.2 U.S. civil entities
3.3 U.S. military, intelligence, and police
3.4 International Atomic Energy Agency
4 Partnerships and contracts
4.1 International Business Machines
4.2 Amazon (AWS)
4.3 Babylon Health
5.1 Algorithm development
5.2 WikiLeaks proposals (2010)
5.3 Racial discrimination lawsuit (2016)
5.4 British Parliament inquiry (2018)
5.5 ICE Partnership (since 2014)
5.6 “HHS Protect Now” and privacy concerns (since 2020)
5.7 Project Maven (since 2018)
6 See also
8 External links
2003–2008: Founding and early years
Founder and chairman Peter Thiel was Palantir’s largest shareholder as of late 2014.
Though usually listed as having been founded in 2004, SEC filings state Palantir’s official incorporation to be in May 2003 by Peter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal), who named the start-up after the “seeing stone” in Tolkien’s legendarium. Thiel saw Palantir as a “mission-oriented company” which could apply software similar to PayPal’s fraud recognition systems to “reduce terrorism while preserving civil liberties.”
In 2004, Thiel bankrolled the creation of a prototype by PayPal engineer Nathan Gettings and Stanford University students Joe Lonsdale and Stephen Cohen. That same year, Thiel hired Alex Karp, a former colleague of his from Stanford Law School, as chief executive officer.
Headquartered in Palo Alto, California, the company initially struggled to find investors. According to Karp, Sequoia Capital chairman Michael Moritz doodled through an entire meeting, and a Kleiner Perkins executive lectured the founders about the inevitable failure of their company. The only early investments were $2 million from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s venture capital arm In-Q-Tel, and $30 million from Thiel himself and his venture capital firm, Founders Fund.
Palantir developed its technology by computer scientists and analysts from intelligence agencies over three years, through pilots facilitated by In-Q-Tel. The company stated computers alone using artificial intelligence could not defeat an adaptive adversary. Instead, Palantir proposed using human analysts to explore data from many sources, called intelligence augmentation.
2009: GhostNet and the Shadow Network
In 2009 and 2010 respectively, Information Warfare Monitor used Palantir software to uncover the GhostNet and the Shadow Network. The GhostNet was a China-based cyber espionage network targeting 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including the Dalai Lama’s office, a NATO computer and various national embassies. The Shadow Network was also a China-based espionage operation that hacked into the Indian security and defense apparatus. Cyber spies stole documents related to Indian security and NATO troop activity in Afghanistan.
In April 2010, Palantir announced a partnership with Thomson Reuters to sell the Palantir Metropolis product as “QA Studio” (a quantitative analysis tool). On June 18, 2010, Vice President Joe Biden and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag held a press conference at the White House announcing the success of fighting fraud in the stimulus by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (RATB). Biden credited the success to the software, Palantir, being deployed by the federal government. He announced that the capability will be deployed at other government agencies, starting with Medicare and Medicaid.
Estimates were $250 million in revenues in 2011.
2013–2016: Additional funding
“[As of 2013] the U.S. spy agencies also employed Palantir to connect databases across departments. Before this, most of the databases used by the CIA and FBI were siloed, forcing users to search each database individually. Now everything is linked together using Palantir.”
— TechCrunch in January 2015
A document leaked to TechCrunch revealed that Palantir’s clients as of 2013 included at least twelve groups within the U.S. government, including the CIA, the DHS, the NSA, the FBI, the CDC, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, the Special Operations Command, the United States Military Academy, the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization and Allies, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. However, at the time, the United States Army continued to use its own data analysis tool. Also, according to TechCrunch, the U.S. spy agencies such as the CIA and FBI were linked for the first time with Palantir software, as their databases had previously been “siloed.”
In September 2013, Palantir disclosed over $196 million in funding according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing. It was estimated that the company would likely close almost $1 billion in contracts in 2014. CEO Alex Karp announced in 2013 that the company would not be pursuing an IPO, as going public would make “running a company like ours very difficult.” In December 2013, the company began a round of financing, raising around $450 million from private funders. This raised the company’s value to $9 billion, according to Forbes, with the magazine further explaining that the valuation made Palantir “among Silicon Valley’s most valuable private technology companies.”
In December 2014, Forbes reported that Palantir was looking to raise $400 million in an additional round of financing, after the company filed paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission the month before. The report was based on research by VC Experts. If completed, Forbes stated Palantir’s funding could reach a total of $1.2 billion. As of December 2014, the company continued to have diverse private funders, Ken Langone and Stanley Druckenmiller, In-Q-Tel of the CIA, Tiger Global Management, and Founders Fund, which is a venture Firm operated by Peter Thiel, the chairman of Palantir. As of December 2014, Thiel was Palantir’s largest shareholder.
The company was valued at $15 billion in November 2014. In June 2015, BuzzFeed reported the company was raising up to $500 million in new capital at a valuation of $20 billion. By December 2015, it had raised a further $880 million, while the company was still valued at $20 billion. In February 2016, Palantir bought Kimono Labs, a startup which makes it easy to collect information from public facing websites.
In August 2016, Palantir acquired data visualization startup Silk.
Palantir is one of four large technology firms to start working with the NHS on supporting COVID-19 efforts through the provision of software from Palantir Foundry and by April 2020 several countries have used Palantir technology to track and contain the contagion. Palantir also developed Tiberius, a software for vaccine allocation used in the United States.
In December 2020, Palantir was awarded a $44.4 million contract by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, boosting its shares by about 21%.
The company was valued at $9 billion in early 2014, with Forbes stating that the valuation made Palantir “among Silicon Valley’s most valuable private technology companies”. As of December 2014, Thiel was Palantir’s largest shareholder. In January 2015, the company was valued at $15 billion after an undisclosed round of funding with $50 million in November 2014. This valuation rose to $20 billion in late 2015 as the company closed an $880 million round of funding. Palantir has never reported a profit. In 2018, Morgan Stanley valued the company at $6 billion.
Karp, Palantir’s chief executive officer, announced in 2013 that the company would not pursue an IPO, as going public would make “running a company like ours very difficult”. However, on October 18, 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that Palantir was considering an IPO in the first half of 2019 following a $41 billion valuation. In July 2020, it was revealed the company had filed for an IPO.
It ultimately went public on the New York Stock Exchange through a direct public offering on September 30, 2020 under the ticker symbol “PLTR”.
The company has invested over $400 million into nearly two dozen SPAC targets according to investment bank RBC Capital Markets, while bringing alongside those companies as customers.
Palantir Gotham is Palantir’s government offering. It is an evolution of Palantir’s longstanding work in the United States Intelligence Community. More recently, Palantir Gotham has been used as a predictive policing system, which has elicited some controversy.
Palantir Metropolis (formerly known as Palantir Finance) was software for data integration, information management and quantitative analytics. The software connects to commercial, proprietary and public data sets and discovers trends, relationships and anomalies, including predictive analytics. Aided by 120 “forward-deployed engineers” of Palantir during 2009, Peter Cavicchia III of JPMorgan used Metropolis to monitor employee communications and alert the insider threat team when an employee showed any signs of potential disgruntlement: the insider alert team would further scrutinize the employee and possibly conduct physical surveillance after hours with bank security personnel. The Metropolis team used emails, download activity, browser histories, and GPS locations from JPMorgan owned smartphones and their transcripts of digitally recorded phone conversations to search, aggregate, sort, and analyze this information for any specific keywords, phrases, and patterns of behavior. In 2013, Cavicchia may have shared this information with Frank Bisignano who had become the CEO of First Data Corporation.
Palantir Apollo is a continuous delivery system that manages and deploys Palantir Gotham and Foundry. Apollo was built out of the need for customers to use multiple public and private cloud platforms as part of their infrastructure. Apollo orchestrates updates to configurations and software in the Foundry and Gotham platforms using a micro-service architecture. This product allows Palantir to provide software as a service (SaaS) rather than to operate as a consulting company.
Palantir Foundry was used by NHS England in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in England to analyse the operation of the vaccination programme. A campaign was started against the company in June 2021 by Foxglove, a tech-justice nonprofit, because “Their background has generally been in contracts where people are harmed, not healed.” Clive Lewis MP, supporting the campaign said Palantir had an “appalling track record.”
The company has been involved in a number of business and consumer products, designing in part or in whole. For example, in 2014, they premiered Insightics, which according to the Wall Street Journal “extracts customer spending and demographic information from merchants’ credit-card records.” It was created in tandem with credit processing company
See also: Information Warfare Monitor
Palantir Metropolis is used by hedge funds, banks, and financial services firms.
Palantir Foundry clients include Merck KGaA, Airbus and Ferrari.
Palantir partner Information Warfare Monitor used Palantir software to uncover both the Ghostnet and the Shadow Network.
U.S. civil entities
Palantir’s software is used by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board to detect and investigate fraud and abuse in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Specifically, the Recovery Operations Center (ROC) used Palantir to integrate transactional data with open-source and private data sets that describe the entities receiving stimulus funds.[clarification needed] Other clients as of 2019 included Polaris Project, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the National Institutes of Health, Team Rubicon, and the United Nations World Food Programme.
In October 2020, Palantir began helping the federal government set up a system that will track the manufacture, distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines across the country.
U.S. military, intelligence, and police
Palantir Gotham is used by counter-terrorism analysts at offices in the United States Intelligence Community and United States Department of Defense, fraud investigators at the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, and cyber analysts at Information Warfare Monitor (responsible for the GhostNet and the Shadow Network investigation).
Other clients as of 2013 included DHS, NSA, FBI, CDC, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, Special Operations Command, West Point, the Joint IED Defeat Organization and Allies. However, at the time the United States Army continued to use its own data analysis tool. Also, according to TechCrunch, “The U.S. spy agencies also employed Palantir to connect databases across departments. Before this, most of the databases used by the CIA and FBI were siloed, forcing users to search each database individually. Now everything is linked together using Palantir.”
U.S. military intelligence used the Palantir product to improve their ability to predict locations of improvised explosive devices in its war in Afghanistan. A small number of practitioners reported it to be more useful than the United States Army’s program of record, the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS-A). California Congressman Duncan D. Hunter complained of United States Department of Defense obstacles to its wider use in 2012.
Palantir has also been reported to be working with various U.S. police departments, for example accepting a contract in 2013 to help the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center build a controversial license plates database for California. In 2012 New Orleans Police Department partnered with Palantir to create a predictive policing program.
In 2014, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) awarded Palantir a $41 million contract to build and maintain a new intelligence system called Investigative Case Management (ICM) to track personal and criminal records of legal and illegal immigrants. This application has originally been conceived by ICE’s office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), allowing its users access to intelligence platforms maintained by other federal and private law enforcement entities. The system reached its “final operation capacity” under the Trump administration in September 2017.
Palantir took over the Pentagon’s Project Maven contract in 2019 after Google decided not to continue developing AI unmanned drones used for bombings and intelligence.
International Atomic Energy Agency
Palantir was used by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify if Iran was in compliance with the 2015 agreement.
The firm has contracts relating to patient data from the British National Health Service. It was awarded an emergency, no-competition contract to mine COVID-19 patient data in 2019. In 2020 this was valued at more than £23.5 million and was extended for two more years. The firm was encouraged by Liam Fox “to expand their software business” in Britain. It was said to be ” critical to the success of the vaccination and PPE programmes,” but its involvement in the NHS was controversial among civil liberties groups.
The Danish POL-INTEL predictive policing project has been operational since 2017 and is based on the Gotham system. According to the AP the Danish system “uses a mapping system to build a so-called heat map identifying areas with higher crime rates.” The Gotham system has also been used by German state police in Hesse and Europol.
The Norwegian Customs is using Palantir Gotham to screen passengers and vehicles for control. Known inputs are prefiled freight documents, passenger lists, the national Currency Exchange database (tracks all cross-border currency exchanges), the Norwegian Welfare Administrations employer- and employee-registry, the Norwegian stock holder registry and 30 public databases from InfoTorg. InfoTorg provides access to more than 30 databases, including the Norwegian National Citizen registry, European Business Register, the Norwegian DMV vehicle registry, various credit databases etc. These databases are supplemented by the Norwegian Customs Departments own intelligence reports, including results of previous controls. The system is also augmented by data from public sources such as social media.
NHS England’s former artificial intelligence chief, Indra Joshi, was recruited by the company in 2022. The company said they were planning to increase their team in the UK by 250.
Palantir stand at the NHS Confederation conference 2022
Partnerships and contracts
International Business Machines
On February 8, 2021, Palantir and IBM announced a new partnership that would use IBM’s hybrid cloud data platform alongside Palantir’s operations platform for building applications. The product, Palantir for IBM Cloud Pak for Data, is expected to simplify the process of building and deploying AI-integrated applications with IBM Watson. It will help businesses/users interpret and use large datasets without needing a strong technical background. Palantir for IBM Cloud Pak for Data will be available for general use in March 2021.
On March 5, 2021, Palantir announced its partnership with Amazon AWS. Palantir’s ERP Suite is now optimized to run on Amazon Web Services. One of the first notable successes of the ERP suite was with BP, which was able to save about $50 million in working capital within two weeks of onboarding the system.
Palantir took a stake in Babylon Health in June 2021. Ali Parsa told the Financial Times that “nobody” has brought some of the tech that Palantir owns “into the realm of biology and health care”.
I2 Inc sued Palantir in Federal Court alleging fraud, conspiracy, and copyright infringement over Palantir’s algorithm. Shyam Sankar, Palantir’s director of business development, used a private eye company as the cutout for obtaining I2’s code. I2 settled out of court for $10 million in 2011.
WikiLeaks proposals (2010)
In 2010, Hunton & Williams LLP allegedly asked Berico Technologies, Palantir, and HBGary Federal to draft a response plan to “the WikiLeaks Threat.” In early 2011 Anonymous publicly released HBGary-internal documents, including the plan. The plan proposed that Palantir software would “serve as the foundation for all the data collection, integration, analysis, and production efforts.” The plan also included slides, allegedly authored by HBGary CEO Aaron Barr, which suggested “[spreading] disinformation” and “disrupting” Glenn Greenwald’s support for WikiLeaks.
Palantir CEO Karp ended all ties to HBGary and issued a statement apologizing to “progressive organizations… and Greenwald … for any involvement that we may have had in these matters.” Palantir placed an employee on leave pending a review by a third-party law firm. The employee was later reinstated.
Racial discrimination lawsuit (2016)
On September 26, 2016, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs of the U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Palantir alleging that the company discriminated against Asian job applicants on the basis of their race. According to the lawsuit, the company “routinely eliminated” Asian applicants during the hiring process, even when they were “as qualified as white applicants” for the same jobs. Palantir settled the suit in April 2017 for $1.7 million while not admitting wrongdoing.
British Parliament inquiry (2018)
During questioning in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Christopher Wylie, the former research director of Cambridge Analytica, said that several meetings had taken place between Palantir and Cambridge Analytica, and that Alexander Nix, the chief executive of SCL, had facilitated their use of Aleksandr Kogan’s data which had been obtained from his app “thisisyourdigitallife” by mining personal surveys. Kogan later established Global Science Research to share the data with Cambridge Analytica and others. Wylie confirmed that both employees from Cambridge Analytica and Palantir used Kogan’s Global Science Research data together in the same offices.
ICE Partnership (since 2014)
Palantir has come under criticism due to its partnership developing software for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Palantir has responded that its software is not used to facilitate deportations. In a statement provided to the New York Times, the firm implied that because its contract was with HSI, a division of ICE focused on investigating criminal activities, it played no role in deportations. However, documents obtained by The Intercept show that this is not the case. According to these documents, Palantir’s ICM software is considered ‘mission critical’ to ICE. Other groups critical of Palantir include the Brennan Center for Justice, National Immigration Project, the Immigrant Defense Project, the Tech Workers Coalition and Mijente. In one internal ICE report Mijente acquired, it was revealed that Palantir’s software was critical in an operation to arrest the parents of undocumented migrant children.
On September 28, 2020, Amnesty International released a report criticizing Palantir failure to conduct human rights due diligence around its contracts with ICE. Concerns around Palantir’s rights record were being scrutinized for contributing to human rights violations of asylum-seekers and migrants.
“HHS Protect Now” and privacy concerns (since 2020)
This section may be unbalanced towards certain viewpoints. Please improve the article or discuss the issue on the talk page. (December 2020)
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has prompted tech companies to respond to growing demand for citizen information from governments in order to conduct contact tracing and to analyze patient data. Consequently, data collection companies, such as Palantir, have been contracted to partake in pandemic data collection practices. Palantir’s participation in “HHS Protect Now”, a program launched by the United States Department of Health and Human Services to track the spread of the coronavirus, has attracted criticism from American lawmakers.
Palantir’s participation in COVID-19 response projects re-ignited debates over its controversial involvement in tracking undocumented immigrants, especially its alleged effects on digital inequality and potential restrictions on online freedoms. Critics allege that confidential data acquired by HHS could be exploited by other federal agencies in unregulated and potentially harmful ways. Alternative proposals request greater transparency in the process to determine whether any of the data aggregated would be shared with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to single out undocumented immigrants.
Project Maven (since 2018)
After Google had issues with employees walking out concerning the new contract in partnership with the Pentagon, Project Maven, a secret artificial intelligence program aimed at the unmanned operation of aerial vehicles, was taken up by Palantir. Critics warn that the technology could lead to autonomous weapons that decide who to strike without human input.
Government by algorithm
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Business data for Palantir Technologies:
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