Special software from the U.S. company Palantir is to help the Bavarian police fight crime. The spy program, called VeRA, could be in use this year, or next year at the latest. But data protection experts and the Bavarian data protection commissioner are concerned.

“Procedural Search and Analysis System” (VeRA for short) is the name of the software that is to assist the Bavarian police in investigations in the future. With just one click of the mouse, officers can retrieve a wealth of information about suspicious persons and their connections to other criminals. But what sounds like a good aid in the fight against crime turns out to be a double-edged sword in practice. Not only the software itself, but also its publishers have been criticized by data protectionists for years.

What exactly is at stake?

Until now, it has been difficult for police officers to find out all the important information about suspects and their criminal connections. The VeRA software is designed to change that. With the help of the program, officers can find everything known about a suspect within seconds at the click of a mouse: address, parents, car accidents, previous criminal offenses. Data protection experts complain that there is currently insufficient assurance that the data obtained in this way is only accessible to police officers.

Palantir Technologies: How serious is the software provider?

The software manufacturer has also come in for criticism. For two reasons. It was founded by controversial tech billionaire Peter Thiel. The latter had financed the election campaign of former President Donald Trump and other – partly far-right – politicians. In addition, Palantir Technologies received money from the U.S. foreign intelligence agency CIA when it was founded – which subsequently became one of Palantir’s customer base.

Further controls and legislative changes required

Data protectionists criticize: They say it is not sufficiently ensured that Palantir Technologies does not have access to the data requested by officials. Some even fear that the data could be passed on to the CIA and other U.S. authorities. The Bavarian State Data Protection Commissioner is also critical of the use of VeRA. “Legitimization by the legislature is required for the considerable encroachment on fundamental rights by the software,” says Thomas Petri. And: the legislator must ensure that the software is only used in emergency situations, for example, through a judge’s reservation. Bavaria’s interior minister has already taken a stand. “VeRA will only be used if the interior committee of the state parliament has given its approval,” says Joachim Herrmann. Whether VeRA will actually be used has not yet been conclusively clarified. By the end of the year, the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology is to thoroughly check the source code of the software for possible data leaks.

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