The Good Law Project has taken legal action over NHS England’s heavily redacted contract with US data giant Palantir, which was chosen in November to operate the new Federated Data Platform for the health service.

Digital Health News has previously reported that more than 70% of the contract, which was published on the government register in late December, was blacked out. The document blacks out a section on the protection of personal data, references to financial reports on the FDP and when they should be provided as well as details about key personnel and their roles and responsibilities. 

In a press release, the Good Law Project said its pre-action protocol letter to NHSE argued that “these full page redactions are unlawful and flout the Government’s transparency guidelines as no reasoning is given behind them – in line with the Freedom of Information Act.”

Good Law Project Legal Manager Ian Browne said:  “The scale of unjustified redactions in these contracts is quite astounding. Government defence contracts have fewer blacked-out pages. Our medical data might now be flowing more freely than ever before, but the public deserves to see the terms on which these tech giants will be processing and using it.

“We previously raised concerns about how existing transparency issues over how NHS patient records are handled would get worse with Palantir at the helm of the Federated Data Platform. We’ve been proved right and now NHS England must act”.

The press release said that Good Law Project is also challenging NHS England over the large-scale redactions in its contract with the bio-tech company, IQVIA, to provide ‘Privacy Enhancing Technology’ which will be used with Palantir’s Federated Data Platform. Around three-quarters of this contract is completely blanked out.

An NHS spokesperson said: “NHS England has received a pre-action protocol letter and will be responding formally in due course.”

The latest legal challenge over FDP comes a month after NHSE said it would  investigate whether Palantir violated the terms of its contract to run the platform by launching a covert influencer campaign targeting the Good Law Project.

The awarding of the FDP contract to Palantir, and the procurement process that preceded it, provoked widespread controversy, with concerns raised about the opaque nature of the tender process and Palantir’s apparently advantageous position.

In the months immediately leading up to the contract award, critics of the FDP process focused on concerns about the future integrity of health data; the pressure apparently contributed to a commitment by NHSE’s Transformation Directorate in late September to a planned public engagement program on NHS use of data after the FDP tender. It said it expects to hold events through 2024 and 2025.