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Editorial Wednesday 31 March 2021: Why did Open Democracy misleadingly claim it won its Palantir court case against NHS England?

Publish Date/Time: 
03/31/2021 - 13:35

I'm a fan of the idea of crowdfunding, and of insurgent media organisations holding the powerful to account.

I am not, however, a fan of blatantly misleading people.

It's disappointing that the crowd-funded Open Democracy, which has had some important stories about the pandemic, is misleading its funders and readers in its report that it "won our lawsuit" over the NHS contract for using the Palantir software and tools.

This is, in fact, untrue. It is the opposite of the truth.

Open Democracy has, instead, universally abandoned a court case that it stood no chance of winning.

An NHS England statement to City AM confirms this: "actually Open Democracy have had to drop their court case unilaterally as it was apparent even to them that the NHS has always acted in accordance with its legal responsibilities.

“They therefore stood no chance of succeeding in their completely spurious claim. It would be more honest if they actually came clean with their crowdfunders that far from ‘winning’ this case they had no choice but to drop it when they realised they hadn’t a leg to stand on.".

Unusually, this statement came directly from the most senior level of that organisation.

There are good reasons to scrutinise the decisions of any public sector, tax-funded organisation: this is what healthy democracies do. Equally, Palantir's founder Peter Thiel comes across as an interesting character, with Conservative libertarian views to which many will object.

And we should always be vigilant about what anyone - private company, Government, public health system - is doing with our personal data.

But organisations should not blatantly mislead people, particularly when they ask those people for money to do what they do. Insurgent organisations in particular will not look trustworthy if they do this.

Open Democracy's emphasis on the importance of transparency over the Palantir contract is deeply ironic, given that they have not, as they claim, won this legal case: they abandoned it because it was clear to them that they would lose.