Journalists received instructions from the service of searching for information about people used by special services.
Motherboard journalists have studied the manual for the software company Palantir, which develops applications for data analysis. Palantir’s clients include immigration and customs authorities, JP Morgan and Airbus corporations, as well as special services. Until 2008, Palantir’s sole customer was the CIA.
Few outside the company and its customers know how the Palantir software works and looks. Journalists received a user guide from Palantir Gotham, an application that law enforcement agencies use.
The Palantir User Guide indicates that the police can begin to search for a specific person, having practically no data, and get a lot of details about him.
- If the police have the name and license plate of the car, then the data of the automatic license plate reader will indicate where and at what time the driver was;
- Using the name, the police can also find email addresses, phone numbers, current and previous addresses, bank accounts, social security numbers, business relationships, family relationships, height, weight and eye color;
- The program can point to the family members and business partners of the suspect, as well as find all available information about them.
All data types in Palantir are called “objects”. They are divided into three categories: entities, events and documents. Within each category, objects are grouped thematically. For example, the essence of a “personality” (Person) includes not only the name of a specific person, but also his email address, bank accounts, social security card numbers, driver’s license information: information about height, weight, eye color and date of birth. Any object has a number of properties (Property Types). They depend on the type of object – among the possible options are gender, if it is a person, or a district and address, if it is, for example, real estate.
Information about objects Palantir takes from several workflow systems at the same time. An example from the manual shows that the necessary data was obtained from the San Mateo and Palo Alto police bases. This is an example of the main Palantir property: the system synthesizes vast amounts of data from various sources. Palantir can also find links between these data. This greatly facilitates the work, which otherwise would be extremely time-consuming.
A guide to journalists explains how to find information about a person or a vehicle with the help of Palantir.
By gathering information about a person, the police can start with a name. The police can also enter a phone number (with or without a city code), a license plate or the dates of cases related to this person. In the case of a vehicle, it is necessary to indicate the license plate numbers, and the system will show all the crimes, arrests, interrogations and other incidents in which the driver participated.
Palantir uses three tools for data visualization: “Histogram”, “Map” and “Object Browser”. All of them help to quickly track the relationship between different types of data. The histogram helps to track the coincidences and repetitive actions of the object, which can tell about the habits and behavior of the person.
Map mode allows the police to do three things: shows the location of objects, searches for an automatic number plate identifier and builds “heat maps” based on the concentration of certain objects.
Object Browser is a comprehensive analysis tool. It allows the police to filter, sort and display dozens of different types of data.
Data can be represented in four main ways: numerical diagrams, histograms, timelines and pie charts. The Palantir manual explains that the type of display changes depending on what information the police are analyzing.