We’ve won our lawsuit over Matt Hancock’s £23m NHS data deal with Palantir

And here’s what needs to happen now

Matt Hancock at a COVID press briefing in December, 2020.


Kirsty Wigglesworth/Pool via REUTERS

We shouldn’t have had to go to court. For a year, we’ve been fighting legal battles over the British government’s secretive NHS data deals with controversial ‘spy tech’ firm Palantir.

Today, we can announce an important victory.

Back in December, after we had spent months on legal efforts to get transparency, the government snuck through a massive £23m, two-year deal with Palantir, a CIA-backed data firm. They contracted Palantir to process our sensitive health data.

We raised objections: the initial deals were framed as a short-term, emergency COVID response, but the new contract revealed mission creep well beyond the pandemic.

Government lawyers insisted that citizens have no right to a say in major NHS contracts with big tech. But we believed the public does have those rights. So we sued.

Facing our lawsuit, the government has finally caved. They’ve pressed pause, committing not to extend Palantir’s contract beyond COVID without consulting the public. There will be no more mission creep without assessing our rights. They have also agreed to engage the public, via patient juries, about whether firms like Palantir are appropriate for a long-term role in the NHS at all.

It’s a major U-turn at a critical moment. The NHS, with its unique trove of structured health data, is powerfully attractive to tech corporations. Palantir and other US tech firms clearly stand to profit from managing or accessing this asset, estimated to be worth £10bn a year.

The NHS datastore is the largest pool of private health data in NHS history, and that raises questions too important to be settled in secret deals. Should it survive the pandemic? On what terms? Should Palantir manage it, or are there more trustworthy alternatives?

Our fight has been about trust. Palantir was founded by a Trump-backing billionaire called Peter Thiel. The firm has a deep and controversial history with US police, and has recently landed a new contract supporting UK border enforcement.

Amid concerns over COVID vaccine hesitancy in some Black and minority ethnic communities and among migrants, trust in health services is vital. A long-term role for Palantir in the NHS risks eroding trust in key communities right when the government needs it most.

There are many more battles to fight. We still need full transparency on the Palantir deal: the government continues to refuse to lift key redactions on what data is being fed into Palantir’s datastore. We need to know that the public consultation they’ve promised is far-reaching, not just a box-ticking exercise.

We also need to fully understand and debate Matt Hancock’s long-term plans for our NHS. Our case was launched amid a major proposed shake-up of laws governing the NHS and its patient data. Proposals in the government’s recent white paper for health and social care would centralise NHS control under Matt Hancock, and could prepare the ground for larger slices of the NHS – including its £10bn/year health data assets – to be contracted to private tech firms.

Who will this brave new world benefit? We have successfully defended the public’s right to be heard before major NHS data deals are signed with large tech firms. It’s now on all of us to speak up if we want our future NHS to serve patients, not profit.

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FAQ: What’s the story with NHS data and Palantir?

What is the datastore?

The ‘COVID-19 Datastore’ is the largest aggregation of patient data in UK history. It was meant to help track NHS resources and provide a ‘single source of truth’ about the pandemic. It initially involved several tech firms: Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Faculty and Palantir. For many months, the government failed to provide adequate information about the contracts involved, carry out proper data protection assessments or explain the access these tech firms have to NHS data.

In a previous legal challenge in June 2020, openDemocracy and Foxglove forced the government to publish the contracts, arguing the public had the right to know about this ‘unprecedented’ transfer of health data assets to tech corporations.

What is Palantir?

Palantir is a data firm best known for supporting the CIA’s counterinsurgency and intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its founder, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, is a close ally of Donald Trump and reportedly consulted with white nationalists during the 2016 campaign. In 2019 Palantir was criticised for its support for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s brutal regime of deportations. It also has an extensive and controversial history with US police.

What is the £23m NHS-Palantir deal?

Just before Christmas we discovered that the most controversial of the datastore deals, the contract with Palantir, had been extended for a further two years, with a new scope far beyond the pandemic, in secret, without public consultation and for £23.5m (the first contract was for £1).

What was the aim of the openDemocracy legal challenge?

First, we wanted the government to consult the public properly – and listen to their views – before going ahead with future deals like this one. We argued it’s a required step for the government to comply with UK privacy and data protection laws.

Second, we wanted the government to complete and publish a robust data protection impact assessment into any new contract, making clear what of our health data is being shared, with whom, and what safeguards there are, as data protection law requires. The government has now conceded that both steps are required – but there is far more work to be done to ensure that this consultation is wide, deep and representative across NHS users.



8 Responses to “We’ve won our lawsuit over Matt Hancock’s £23m NHS data deal with Palantir”

  1. Alan Vaughn says:

    Well at least the otherwise complicit and corrupt legal system acted appropriately for a change, but still nothing worthy of breaking out the Champaign over.

  2. Aldous says:

    The lying filth and all-round Hancocksucker should be immediately arrested – along with dozens if not hundreds of others – for pre-meditated mass murder and attempted genocide of the UK electorate.
    Although the out and out scumag(s) don’t deserve it, give them a swift trial and an even swifter public execution so I can watch it on DVD at least every other day in order to give me a well needed hard-on to service my lockdown fatigued, fed-up and worn-out wife in my geriatric years.

    • ian says:

      That would be justice Aldous. Amen.

      • Aldous says:

        Hi Ian and a very happy Easter to you, Henry, Weaver and all Tappers out there.
        I’m not a particularly religious person nowadays – or ever have been if the truth be told – as I have known more loose women, drank more alcohol and got into unnecessary arguments and fights than I care to remember but I do try to live my life as if God if not my Conscience is always on watch.
        I have had a couple of run-ins with the ‘law'(sic) but never been charged as they failed to beat a confession out of this particular usual suspect. Losing a few teeth was worth it and I got them back anyway – my teeth I hasten to add.

        All I ask of anyone these days is that they can piss me off all they like but not to ever BORE me. I really hate that.
        The Tap Blog and other Truth Sites have kept me and my long suffering wife of nearly 60 years going in these Orwellian Times.

        The time for using nice language is well and truly over and whenever I submit a post, it’s meant to be serious but also amuse if possible.

        My wife needs the ‘whole gun’ and will get it as soon as this flaccid making nightmare is over. The puppet traitors in office and those behind the curtain controlling the levers of power have buggered us for long enough and now shown their true colours.
        We got shafted and the mineshaft while they got the booty and the goldmine.

      • ian says:

        A happy Easter to you and your good lady Aldous. I always enjoy your posts, and they’re always on the money, and funny too. Kindest regards Pal.

    • Gordon says:

      What the hell has happened to this country!?

      What gets me most is how these renegades in government, in judiciary, in the health service, and in banking have not been taken out and strung up long before now.

      Each in turn have slowly and incrementally shafted this country to the hilt on account of their own selfish interests. GREED!, while stressing and constantly proclaiming they have the best interest of the country at heart they blatantly and without a hint of remorse go on to tell one lie after another until their fiendish proposals and propaganda are accepted. – Talk about telling a lie often enough! – These people are expert at craft and deceit and stand as renowned pillocks instead of pillars of society.

      Of late these same in sheep clothing who tell us they have our best interest and well being at heart have on account of themselves having played around like silly buggers with viruses have managed to put the country in lockdown and confine most to quarters while they themselves are the ones that should be locked up and the key thrown away.

      They know their days are numbered and things are going to get tough for the knights in white armour, the truth seekers, the demonstrators and conscientious objectors. For this reason new laws are afoot to curb one from demonstrating, even thinking, but note that most demonstrations are against the government and all is very reminiscent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

      What the hell has happened to this country!?

      • ian says:

        Welfare of the people has always been the alibi of tyrants, “Camus”.

        “Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Always.”
        ― Mahatma Gandhi,

      • ian says:

        When they do fall Gordon, I just hope that their enablers and arse kissers, go down too. It will be a big day.