Unauthorized FBI personnel allegedly gained access to Ethereum researcher Virgil Griffith’s social media accounts due to a Palantir coding flaw.
Palantir, the AI firm founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, has come under fire after a New York Post story revealed that a flaw in its software program allegedly allowed unauthorized FBI personnel to access private data belonging to incarcerated Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith.
The alleged breach was revealed in a letter by prosecutors in a Manhattan federal court case against Griffith, an Ethereum Foundation researcher, according to the website. Griffith has been charged with breaking UN sanctions by visiting North Korea and giving a speech about bitcoin. If convicted, he may face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
According to the Post, the failure meant that data collected from his Twitter and Facebook accounts—obtained by a court search warrant in March 2020—was viewed on Palantir without authorisation by “at least four FBI employees” for more than a year.
Palantir, a tech company notorious for supplying government agencies with controversial data-sifting software, disputed the allegations and blamed the FBI’s inappropriate use of the program in a statement.
When it was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2020, the firm was valued at almost $22 billion, and its revenues have since risen. It boasts hundreds of customers, including the CIA, IBM, Airbus, and BP, and manages a 237-satellite meta-constellation. The announcement of the problem appears to have had little impact on the company’s stock.
The claimed data breach could be a lifesaver for Griffiths, who was arrested in July after violating his bail restrictions by accessing his crypto exchange account.
Griffith’s social media data was uploaded to Palantir’s program using default settings, according to the prosecution letter, and unauthorized FBI officials were therefore permitted access.
The FBI agents who had access to the data told prosecutors that they had never used it in their investigations. However, the disclosure exposes a violation of the safeguards intended to protect individuals’ constitutional rights, potentially jeopardizing the prosecution’s case.
“Prosecutors must follow the rules in any federal prosecution. If they don’t, they face a mistrial or perhaps dismissal, depending on the infraction, according to Jason Gottlieb, partner and head of Morrison Cohen’s White Collar and Regulatory Enforcement practice group.
Griffith is a complicated and close case on SOME issues, but not this one: it is insane to remand someone to custody for this purported bail violation. The prosecutors are being incredibly heavy-handed and punitive. Not remotely in the public interest. https://t.co/xC9JkHgj0n— Jason Gottlieb (@ohaiom) July 10, 2021
Gottlieb has attacked Griffith’s return to jail to await his trial later this year on Twitter. The prosecution’ approach, he said, was “extremely heavy-handed and punitive.”
Griffiths’ lawyers are looking into the legal possibilities available to him. Other supporters of Griffith include Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum, who claims Griffith made a harmless lecture about an open-source system based on publicly available information.
Meanwhile, Palantir has already faced privacy concerns. Experts argue the firm’s capabilities allow for surveillance and data analysis that violates people’s right to privacy and is ripe for misuse, and politicians such as Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have called for an investigation.
The uproar will almost certainly get louder now, as the accident could indicate a larger problem with the FBI’s use of Palantir.