A French alternative to Palantir would take two years to make, Thales CEO says

PARIS (Reuters) - An alternative to tools provided by U.S. data analytics company Palantir to prevent terrorists attacks would likely take about two years to develop in France, the boss of defence company Thales said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Patrice Caine, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Aerospace and defence group Thales, attends a news conference with Gemalto in Paris, France, December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

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

The initial three-year contract with Palantir, whose clients range from the CIA to global banks, was renewed last year.

But the DGSI domestic intelligence agency said the contract was renewed because there was no home-grown alternative, while President Emmanuel Macron has called for European digital sovereignty in the face of the dominance of China and the United States in the field.

A French-made version of the digital tool provided by Palantir is possible but would need the support of the state, said Patrice Caine, chief executive of French firm Thales.

“The economic stakes are very low,” he told reporters at a lunch with the Anglo-American Press Association, adding that the contract signed by Palantir with DGSI was worth a few million euros. “Then there’s the question of sovereignty, autonomy, independence, and that’s a question only the state can answer,” he said.

It would be “pretty fast” to develop a French alternative, according to Caine.

“It’s a question of years ... let’s say two years.”

Palantir declined to comment.

Last year, DGSI head Nicolas Lerner told Reuters he would rather use a home-grown technology, citing French groups Thales, Dassault Systemes and Sopra Steria as possible developers.

Caine said there had been no tender announced and that Thales had so far only received a “request for information” from French authorities, along with other companies.

Palantir was co-founded in 2004 by U.S. billionaire Peter Thiel in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It employs about 2,500 employees and is worth close to $16 billion after a direct listing in New York last month.

Its technology tracks a range of online and offline databases used by militants planning attacks.

Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Pravin Char