A top German court ruled the Hamburg law unconstitutional and issued strict guidelines for the first time about how automatic data analysis tools like Palantir’s can be used by police, and it warned against the inclusion of data belonging to bystanders, such as witnesses or lawyers like Eder. The ruling said that the Hamburg law, and a similar law in Hesse, “allow police, with just one click, to create comprehensive profiles of persons, groups, and circles,” without differentiating between suspected criminals and people who are connected to them.
The decision did not ban Palantir’s Gotham tool but limited the way police can use it. “Eder’s risk of being flagged or having her data processed by Palantir will now be dramatically reduced,” says Bijan Moini, head of legal of the Berlin-based Society for Civil Rights (GFF), which brought the case to court.
Although Palantir was not the ruling’s target, the decision still dealt a blow to the 19-year-old company’s police ambitions in Europe’s biggest market. Cofounded by billionaire Peter Thiel, who remains the chairman, Palantir helps police clients connect disparate databases and pull huge amounts of people’s data into an accessible well of information. But the guidance issued by Germany’s court can influence similar decisions across the rest of the European Union, says Sebastian Golla, assistant professor for criminology at Ruhr University Bochum, who wrote the complaint against Hamburg’s Palantir law. “I think this will have a bigger impact than just in Germany.”