Through a public record request, Motherboard has obtained a user manual that gives unprecedented insight into Palantir Gotham (Palantir’s other services, Palantir Foundry, is an enterprise data platform), which is used by law enforcement agencies like the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. The NCRIC serves around 300 communities in northern California and is what is known as a “fusion center,” a Department of Homeland Security intelligence center that aggregates and investigates information from state, local, and federal agencies, as well as some private entities, into large databases that can be searched using software like Palantir.
Fusion centers have become a target of civil liberties groups in part because they collect and aggregate data from so many different public and private entities. The US Department of Justice’s Fusion Center Guidelines list the following as collection targets:
The guide doesn’t just show how Gotham works. It also shows how police are instructed to use the software. This guide seems to be specifically made by Palantir for the California law enforcement because it includes examples specific to California. We don’t know exactly what information is excluded, or what changes have been made since the document was first created. The first eight pages that we received in response to our request is undated, but the remaining twenty-one pages were copyrighted in 2016. (Palantir did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
The Palantir user guide shows that police can start with almost no information about a person of interest and instantly know extremely intimate details about their lives. The capabilities are staggering, according to the guide:
- If police have a name that’s associated with a license plate, they can use automatic license plate reader data to find out where they’ve been, and when they’ve been there. This can give a complete account of where someone has driven over any time period.
- With a name, police can also find a person’s email address, phone numbers, current and previous addresses, bank accounts, social security number(s), business relationships, family relationships, and license information like height, weight, and eye color, as long as it’s in the agency’s database.
- The software can map out a person’s family members and business associates of a suspect, and theoretically, find the above information about them, too.
All of this information is aggregated and synthesized in a way that gives law enforcement nearly omniscient knowledge over any suspect they decide to surveil.
In order for Palantir to work, it has to be fed data. This can mean public records like business registries, birth certificates, and marriage records, or police records like warrants and parole sheets. Palantir would need other data sources to give police access to information like emails and bank account numbers.
“Palantir Law Enforcement supports existing case management systems, evidence management systems, arrest records, warrant data, subpoenaed data, RMS or other crime-reporting data, Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) data, federal repositories, gang intelligence, suspicious activity reports, Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) data, and unstructured data such as document repositories and emails,” Palantir’s website says.
Some data sources—like marriage, divorce, birth, and business records—also implicate other people that are associated with a person personally or through family. So when police are investigating a person, they’re not just collecting a dragnet of emails, phone numbers, business relationships, travel histories, etc. about one suspect. They’re also collecting information for people who are associated with this suspect.