Covid has given Peter Thiel’s secretive US tech company new opportunities to operate in Europe in ways some campaigners find worrying
The 24 March, 2020 will be remembered by some for the news that Prince Charles tested positive for Covid and was isolating in Scotland. In Athens it was memorable as the day the traffic went silent. Twenty-four hours into a hard lockdown, Greeks were acclimatising to a new reality in which they had to send an SMS to the government in order to leave the house. As well as millions of text messages, the Greek government faced extraordinary dilemmas. The European Union’s most vulnerable economy, its oldest population along with Italy, and one of its weakest health systems faced the first wave of a pandemic that overwhelmed richer countries with fewer pensioners and stronger health provision. The carnage in Italy loomed large across the Adriatic.
One Greek who did go into the office that day was Kyriakos Pierrakakis, the minister for digital transformation, whose signature was inked in blue on an agreement with the US technology company, Palantir. The deal, which would not be revealed to the public for another nine months, gave one of the world’s most controversial tech companies access to vast amounts of personal data while offering its software to help Greece weather the Covid storm. The zero-cost agreement was not registered on the public procurement system, neither did the Greek government carry out a data impact assessment – the mandated check to see whether an agreement might violate privacy laws.