November 27, 2019 / 1:50 PM / 10 days ago

France seeks own alternative to Palantir data firm in helping fight terrorism

PARIS (Reuters) - France wants to develop a domestic alternative to U.S. data analytics company Palantir to help it prevent terrorist attacks but will meanwhile renew its contract with the firm, a senior French intelligence official said.

Palo-Alto based Palantir, which specializes in crunching and analyzing large quantities of data, was hired by French intelligence services in the wake of the November 2015 Islamist militant attacks that killed 130 people in Paris.

The three-year contract with Palantir, whose clients range from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to global banks, will be renewed in the absence of a short-term alternative, said Nicolas Lerner, head of the DGSI domestic intelligence agency, confirming an earlier report by French magazine L’Express.

“Palantir is helping us, which means we don’t depend on Palantir,” Lerner told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in Paris late on Tuesday. “The red line we’ve set ourselves from day one is that all the data processed by this system is on our internal network, which is a closed, top-secret network.”

Palantir declined to comment on the contract.

But Lerner said he would rather use a home-grown technology. “We should also help our own manufacturers upgrade their systems in the field,” he said, citing French groups Thales, Dassault Systemes and Sopra Steria.

“We have a role to play because we have to support them, we have to help them, we have to make data available to them.”

Thales declined comment. Dassault Systemes and Sopra Steria did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

Lerner spoke three weeks after President Emmanuel Macron called for European digital sovereignty in the face of the dominance of China and the United States in the field.

Co-founded in 2004 by U.S. billionaire Peter Thiel in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Palantir currently has 2,500 employees and has raised roughly $2.75 billion from investors to date, according to data provider PitchBook.

Its technology tracks a range of online and offline data bases used by militants planning attacks, and has been applied to major cases such as aiding the long U.S. search for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a commando raid on his Pakistan hideout in 2011.

Additional reporting by Michel Rose and Gwenaelle Barzic; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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