shannon_mattern + policing + palantir   1

Palantir has secretly been using New Orleans to test its predictive policing technology - The Verge
As part of the discovery process in Lewis’ trial, the government turned over more than 60,000 pages of documents detailing evidence gathered against him from confidential informants, ballistics, and other sources — but they made no mention of the NOPD’s partnership with Palantir, according to a source familiar with the 39ers trial.

The program began in 2012 as a partnership between New Orleans Police and Palantir Technologies, a data-mining firm founded with seed money from the CIA’s venture capital firm. According to interviews and documents obtained by The Verge, the initiative was essentially a predictive policing program, similar to the “heat list” in Chicago that purports to predict which people are likely drivers or victims of violence.

The partnership has been extended three times, with the third extension scheduled to expire on February 21st, 2018. The city of New Orleans and Palantir have not responded to questions about the program’s current status.

Predictive policing technology has proven highly controversial wherever it is implemented, but in New Orleans, the program escaped public notice, 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....

In fact, key city council members and attorneys contacted by The Verge had no idea that the city had any sort of relationship with Palantir, nor were they aware that Palantir used its program in New Orleans to market its services to another law enforcement agency for a multimillion-dollar contract....

Six years ago, one of the world’s most secretive and powerful tech firms developed a contentious intelligence product in a city that has served as a neoliberal laboratory for everything from charter schools to radical housing reform since Hurricane Katrina. Because the program was never public, important questions about its basic functioning, risk for bias, and overall propriety were never answered....

Prediction is not new territory for Palantir. Since at least 2009, Palantir was used by the Pentagon to predict the location of improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq — a wartime risk-assessment program absent the civil liberties concerns that come with individualized predictive policing. Its commercial software platform, Metropolis, also reportedly uses predictive analytics to help businesses develop consumer markets and streamline investments. But before 2012 with the New Orleans program, there is no publicly available record that Palantir had ventured into predictive policing....

Interest and investment in predictive policing technology accelerated after 2009 when the National Institute of Justice began issuing grants for pilot projects in crime forecasting. Those grants underpin some of the best-known — and most scrutinized — predictive policing efforts in Chicago and Los Angeles. Programs vary, and the algorithms are often proprietary, but they all aim to ingest vast stores of data — geography, criminal records, the weather, social media histories — and make predictions about individuals or places likely to be involved in a crime. In the following years, many startup firms have struggled to monetize the crime-fighting method — most notably PredPol, a California startup whose contract awards have foundered after an initial blitz of publicity in the early 2010s....

“We’re kind of a prototype,” said Matalin. “Unless you’re the cousin of some drug dealer that went bad, you’re going to be okay.”...

The Palantir partnership would have likely received more scrutiny from the city council had it been itemized in a budget, but the council’s approval isn’t required for such a program. The structure of city government in New Orleans is predicated on a “strong mayor” model where the council does not have approval authority over contracts or policies for the city police department.

Cities around the country have recently begun to grapple with the question of if and how municipalities should regulate data sharing and privacy. Some cities like Seattle and Oakland have passed legislation establishing committees to craft guidelines and conduct oversight, while others like New York are discussing what role city councils should play regarding privacy in the digital age....

Palantir’s prediction model in New Orleans used an intelligence technique called social network analysis (or SNA) to draw connections between people, places, cars, weapons, addresses, social media posts, and other indicia in previously siloed databases. Think of the analysis as a practical version of a Mark Lombardi painting that highlights connections between people, places, and events. After entering a query term — like a partial license plate, nickname, address, phone number, or social media handle or post — NOPD’s analyst would review the information scraped by Palantir’s software and determine which individuals are at the greatest risk of either committing violence or becoming a victim, based on their connection to known victims or assailants.

The data on individuals came from information scraped from social media as well as NOPD criminal databases for ballistics, gangs, probation and parole information, jailhouse phone calls, calls for service, the central case management system (i.e., every case NOPD had on record), and the department’s repository of field interview cards. The latter database represents every documented encounter NOPD has with citizens, even those that don’t result in arrests. In 2010, The Times-Picayune revealed that Chief Serpas had mandated that the collection of field interview cards be used as a measure of officer and district performance, resulting in over 70,000 field interview cards filled out in 2011 and 2012. The practice resembled NYPD’s “stop and frisk” program and was instituted with the express purpose of gathering as much intelligence on New Orleanians as possible, regardless of whether or not they committed a crime....If someone had been shot, Serpas explained, Asher would use Palantir’s software to find people associated with them through field interviews or social media data. “This data analysis brings up names and connections between people on FIs [field interview cards], on traffic stops, on victims of reports, reporting victims of crimes together, whatever the case may be...

According to Palantir’s own documentation, Asher and his colleagues ran social network analyses of every victim of a fatal or non-fatal shooting in New Orleans from 2011 through 2013. Through this technique, which Asher dubbed “The NOLA Model,” the city devised a list of roughly 3,900 people who were at the highest risk of being involved in gun violence because of their connection to a previous shooter or victim. “We can identify 30-40% of shooting victims,” Asher claimed at Palantir’s 2014 internal conference. Asher declined repeated requests for an interview.

Theoretically, Asher’s approach is substantially influenced by the research of Andrew Papachristos, a Yale professor who tracked violence as if it were a communicable disease spreading through networks of association. However, since his work was cited as the academic underpinning for crime-forecasting models employed by PredPol and the Chicago Police Department, Papachristos has sought to distance his research from those methods.

Once NOPD generated its list of likely shooters and victims, the police department and social service providers — for the “carrot” side of NOLA For Life — would select people who were either incarcerated or on court supervision for a “call-in meeting.”...

Regardless of the sustainability of New Orleans’ murder reduction, Palantir used its work with the NOPD to solicit large contracts with other American cities. Later, the company won lucrative contracts for predictive programs with foreign governments....

Last year, the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel’s security services used analytics systems that scraped social media and other data to predict potential “lone-wolf” attackers from Palestinian communities in the West Bank, and that Palantir was one of only two technology companies to provide predictive intelligence systems to Israeli security organizations. The New Orleans project is the first reported instance of Palantir using social media data as a part of the company’s social network analysis....

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.
smart_cities  palantir  prediction  policing  social_network_analysis  methodology 
march 2018 by shannon_mattern

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