As if the police weren’t scary enough.
A new investigative article recently published by the Verge offers comprehensive and detailed evidence that a Silicon Valley company, Palantir, has provided software to the New Orleans Police Department since 2012. The technology, implemented after New Orleans’ murder rate was the highest in the nation, traces so-called criminals’ ties to other gang members, analyzes their social media, and outlines and predicts the likelihood that individuals might commit violence or become a victim.
Although there are similar programs in other American cities, what makes this partnership especially egregious is that no one—not the defense attorneys defending alleged gang members who were tracked by this software, or the New Orleans City Council, or the public—knew that it was being used.
And on top of that, Palantir is a data-mining firm founded with seed money from the CIA’s venture capital fund.
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The Verge reports that Palantir’s partnership with the notorious NOPD (which itself has had serious issues around civil rights abuses) has been extended three times, with the third extension scheduled to expire Feb. 21, 2018. No one will confirm if it has been extended again.
The program escaped public notice, according to the Verge, “partly because Palantir established it as a philanthropic relationship with the city through Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s signature NOLA for Life program. Thanks to its philanthropic status, as well as New Orleans’ ‘strong mayor’ model of government, the agreement never passed through a public procurement process.”
Predictive policing technology is already controversial in that many believe it’s just another way to implement racial profiling. Given that the city of New Orleans is 60 percent black, and that poor, black communities there bear the brunt of over-policing, it doesn’t take a genius to guess who this flawed system will be used against.
According to Florida Tech, other issues with predictive technology include the obvious threat to privacy, overreliance on technology and lack of context when making claims against defendants (e.g., just because someone has a Facebook relationship with an alleged gang member doesn’t make that person a gang member, too).
The Verge says that there are even some concerns within the law enforcement community itself because five years after it was started in New Orleans, the company has sold at least one crime-forecasting system to foreign intelligence services for predicting the likelihood of individuals to commit terrorism, and yet this system is being used in these United States against its own (black) citizens.
“Palantir is a great example of an absolutely ridiculous amount of money spent on a tech tool that may have some application,” a former officer told the Verge anonymously. “However, it’s not the right tool for local and state law enforcement.”
Not only that, but given the NOPD’s documented abuses around biased policing and racial profiling, inadequate training and supervision, and failure to engage in community-oriented policing (they can now just sit behind a desk and find all the so-called bad guys), this is without a doubt a threat to the black community of Crescent City—who had no idea it was even being used against them.
As the end of the article notes, “If Palantir’s partnership with New Orleans had been public, the issues of legality, transparency, and propriety could have been hashed out in a public forum during an informed discussion with legislators, law enforcement, the company, and the public. For six years, that never happened.”
Read more about this secretive, discriminatory, costly mess that has made some white men very rich off the backs of black bodies—all in the name of crime-reduction—here.