Big Brother: How are potential criminals secretly monitored in the US?
In 2013, New Orleans ranked sixth in terms of crime in the United States. Then the city district attorney accused about ten people of extortion, allegedly - members of the dealer gangs "3NG" and "the 110ers". They were charged with 25 murders, a series of attempts on life and a series of robberies, writes The Verge.
Following this verdict, the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Control Department together with the FBI and local agencies conducted an investigation, which resulted in a new wave of arrests. According to Ronal Serpas (at that time, the head of the city police), gang members like "3NG" and "the 39ers"Were established, in particular, due to the development of a startup Palantirbased in Silicon Valley. The company has provided software to the New Orleans police to track citizens' connections with gang members already installed. The police were able to analyze their criminal past and activity in social networks, as well as predict the likelihood of crimes committed by them or in relation to them.
The project began in 2012 in the form of collaboration between the police of New Orleans and Palantir Technologies - a data analytics company based on FBI venture fund money. As follows from the available The Verge documents and interviews, a new Orleans project was proposed by the police as part of a crime prevention program.
Contract about partnership extended three times; The final date is 21 February 2018. New Orleans Administration and Representatives Palantir They didn’t answer the questions about the current status of the program.
"No one in New Orleans has a clue about this."
In fact, none of the key members of the city council who were contacted The Verge, did not know about the existence of a partnership of city authorities and Palantir - and even more so they did not know that Palantir used New Orleans as a testing ground to demonstrate its capabilities to enter into a multi-million dollar contract with another security agency.
Even James Carville is a police officer responsible for concluding an agreement with Palantir - Said that information about the program should not have been made public.
“As far as I know, nobody in New Orleans has a clue about this,” said Carville.
More than ten years after the start of the partnership between the company and the New Orleans authorities Palantir patented at least one system forecasting criminal activity and began to supply the intelligence services of other states with similar software for determining citizens' propensity to commit terrorist acts.
Even in the professional police community, there is a discussion about the potential limitations of civil liberties when using the system from Palantir. There is no consensus about the acceptability of such projects for the American criminal justice system.
“This system is not suitable for local and federal law enforcement. They create a list of suspects, but we are not fighting al-Qaeda forces in Syria, ”said a former law enforcement officer who was in direct contact with Palantir and attended the presentation system.
He agreed to speak with the publication on condition of anonymity in order to freely share his concerns about machine data analysis and preventive law enforcement activities.
«Palantir - a vivid example of how you can spend a lot of money on a system that can be used in practice, but which is not suitable for local and federal law enforcement agencies, ”the former official explained.
Palantir Technologies Alexander Karp and Peter Thiel (the latter owns the largest share of the startup shares) were founded in 2004. In a short time, the company has become one of the most expensive in Silicon Valley. Rapid growth Palantir associated with the conclusion of a number of lucrative contracts with the Pentagon, as well as national and foreign intelligence services. In the last few years Palantir with varying success attempts to translate their activities in the synthesis and analysis of data in the private sector.
Palantir not the first time to engage in predictions. Starting at least since 2009, the company has helped the Pentagon locate improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of a risk assessment program. Since the project was implemented during the war, the company could not worry about the problems of respecting civil liberties, which inevitably arise when using crime prevention technologies. According to some sources commercial unit Palantir, Metropolis, also uses forecasting technology to stimulate consumer markets and investment management. However, until 2012, we did not find any available information regarding participation Palantir in crime prevention projects.
Interest in crime prevention and investment in this area began to grow after 2009, when the National Institute of Justice began to provide grants for projects on the prediction of offenses. Thanks to this funding, some of the most successful - and most controversial - crime prevention programs in Chicago and Los Angeles were created. The algorithms used in them are often patented by developers, however, they work according to the general principle: to collect the maximum amount of available data (location, criminal record, weather conditions, activity in social networks) and based on it build assumptions about what people or objects may be involved in crime. In the next few years, many startups tried to monetize the technology to combat crime: in particular, it is worth mentioning PredPol, a Californian project that failed to retain customers, despite an active advertising campaign at the beginning of this decade.
Up to 2012 there is no information regarding participation. Palantir in crime prevention projects.
While more departments and companies were involved in crime prevention activities, state-sponsored research raised doubts about the effectiveness of the methodology. Independent scholars have found that crime prediction programs can adversely affect the lives of racial minorities. In progress published in 2016, the study reconstructed the algorithm Palantir. As a result of the simulation, experts concluded that the technology reproduced “systemic bias” in relation to racial communities discriminated by the police, and also concluded that information on the committed crimes does not always guarantee the accuracy of the forecast. One of the researchers, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, William Isaac, had never heard of the joint project of the New Orleans authorities and Palantir, but immediately recognized the model underlying the program.
“I doubt that the information they use has such a significant predictive power. So far, it has not led to the prevention of particularly violent crimes, ”said Isaac.
According to the available The Verge documents, first contacts Palantir and the New Orleans administration came to 2012 through the mediation of James Carville, a well-known mediator in this area. At the same time, Carville is the central figure of the Democratic Party and the author of the successful presidential campaign of Bill Clinton in the 1992 elections of the year. He advises Palantir with 2011 years.
“I am the only driving force of this project”
In an interview, Carville reported The Vergethat it was his intervention that prompted cooperation between Palantir and the authorities of New Orleans.
“I am the only driving force of this project. This is entirely my idea, ”said Carville, adding that he and the CEO Palantir Alex Karp flew to New Orleans to meet with Mayor Landrew. - For me it is a question of morality. Young people were killed in shootings, and the public did not react properly. "
Documents regulating the relationship between Palantir and the administration of New Orleans, characterize the company's activities as "royalty-free" and philanthropic. In 2015 year Palantir contributed cooperation with the New Orleans authorities to her annual report on socially useful activities under the guise of a collective “analysis of social networks” for law enforcement agencies and members of the city administration.
Interview four years ago, which Carville gave the city radio station "Bay Areasheds light on the partnership between Palantir and authorities. In January, 2014, on the Forum talk show, Carville and his wife, Mary Matalin, praised the work Palantir in New Orleans and talked about this as one of the reasons for the two-year decline in crime in the city.
"CEO Palantir Alex Karp said that they wanted to do charity work, and that I immediately came to mind? I said that we, in New Orleans, have a terribly high crime rate, ”Carville told show host Michael Krasney, without mentioning his paid position in the company.
“So he came and met with our mayor ... Both consider the situation as immoral when young people are killing their peers, and society does not want to do anything. And we were able - without spending a penny from the city budget - to begin collecting information, began to predict offenses and intervene in situations that threatened to turn into crimes. Over the period of the project, the crime rate dropped by almost a third. ”
Matalin, also a political consultant, in an interview with Krasny made it clear that forecasting services that Palantir provided the New Orleans police, were the prototype, but it could in theory lead to the arrest of innocent citizens.
“If you are not a cousin to any drug dealer who is in jail, you will be fine”
Ronal Serpas, head of the New Orleans police from 2010 to 2014, told us about the circumstances of the first contact with representatives Palantir. This happened in a meeting initiated by the administration of Mayor Landry.
“They contacted me and offered services similar to what they provide in armed conflicts in other parts of the world,” Serpas said in an interview in his office at Loyola University. - I got the impression that the representatives Palantir were interested in the development of crime forecasting technologies. ”
The relationship between the city and the startup acquired the official character of 23 February 2012 of the year - on the day of signing the contract, which gave New Orleans free access to the data integration platform from Palantir. According to the results of the audit by the Los Angeles Police Department check, the cost of licenses and technical support for this platform can reach millions of dollars annually.
In January 2013, the New Orleans Administration also provided Palantir access to database Accurint from the company LexisNexis, containing millions of archival and court records, driving licenses, addresses, phone numbers and data from social networks. The company received free access to the personal affairs of convicts and citizens who had never been brought to justice, which was supposed to help the project improve the technology.
Neither the residents of New Orleans, nor the key members of the city council, whose duties include control over the use of this kind of information, have not been made aware of access Palantir to this data.
Palantir - a very secretive company, and New Orleans is not the only example of its cooperation with city structures through the mediation of subsidiary non-profit organizations, which allow to avoid participation in the tender for public procurement.
Palantir provides information analysis and synthesis services to the Los Angeles Police Department, but the relevant agreement was concluded not with the police itself, but with the Los Angeles Police Association. In the case of the New York police, the contract was not registered in the city registry for security reasons (as is the case with contracts for the supply of surveillance equipment) and was not approved by the city council. Collaboration Information Palantir with the New York police became public only after the documents confirming the connection between the company and the country's largest police department were made available to the journalist BuzzFeed William Alden.
According to The Verge, in New Orleans, the project was known only to the administration of Mayor Landry, the city’s police and the prosecutor’s office. Key members of the city council were not aware of the agreement before the meeting with the reporters of the publication.
Partnership with Palantir could be the subject of close attention of the city council if it were included in the budget as a separate article, but programs of this kind do not need approval from the council. The vertical of power in New Orleans is built on the model of a "strong mayor": the council has no authority to approve contracts or a plan of action for the city police.
City authorities across the country are increasingly confronted with the question of whether - and if so, how - to empower municipal authorities to regulate the exchange of information and ensure its confidentiality. In some cities, such as Seattle and Auckland, local laws have been amended to include the creation of committees responsible for developing development plans and overseeing their implementation. Nevertheless, the rest of the city - including New York - are still discussing what role city councils should play in ensuring privacy in the digital age.
A number of criminal and civil lawyers closely connected with the New Orleans law enforcement system were also not informed about the implementation of the crime prevention program. Criminal lawyers have never seen activity reports Palantir among the materials that the prosecution provided during the trial, although they should be transferred to the defense if used in the investigation.
By request The Verge Jason Williams, president of the New Orleans City Council and former attorney, familiarized himself with the cooperation documents between Palantir and city police.
“I don’t think that anyone on the council could say that they knew about the conclusion of the contract, since the financing of the project has never been in the sphere under our control,” he said at a meeting of the council.
Williams, before being elected to the city council in 2014, held the position of criminal justice judge, added that he would not call himself an implacable opponent of using information analysis methods to help socially unprotected citizens.
“I’m more worried about how these technologies are used in my city. If it turns out that the system was used to identify the most vulnerable segments of the population at risk of becoming victims of violence, I will have a completely different attitude to the project than if it turns out that the technology was used for questionable purposes. ”
"It looks like New Orleans was creating its own version of the National Security Agency"
Susan Guidry, who has been chairing the criminal justice committee of the New Orleans City Council since 2010, also did not know about working with Palantir. After reviewing the provided The Verge documents, Guidry said that she had never seen them before.
The Verge sent copies of documents to a number of New Orleans civil rights activists. None of them had heard of the program before - although one of them heard rumors about the cooperation of the police department with Palantir. All of them were puzzled by the high level of secrecy of the project.
“It is particularly disturbing that the analysis of the activity of ordinary citizens, bordering on privacy, has become a secret operation,” said Jim Craig, director of the Roderick Center for Justice and Solange MacArthur. Craig, having read the provided The Verge documents, compared the crime prevention initiative with the work of intelligence.
“It looks like New Orleans is creating its own version of the National Security Agency to continuously monitor the lives of citizens,” he said.
In his opinion, the authorities preferred to classify the project in order to avoid a wave of indignation on the part of citizens.
"Today, people are actively opposing traffic cameras and do not even suspect that a project to collect personal data is being implemented in the city," said Craig. “The south of the country is still a region where residents value privacy.”
Nicholas Corsaro and Robin Engel, professors from the University of Cincinnati, recently published a study assessing the effectiveness of the crime reduction strategy in New Orleans, one of whose tools was collaboration with Palantir. They also participated in the creation of a base of urban gangs, which is used by Palantir. Neither Engel nor Corsaro knew about the crime prevention program and collaboration with Palantiror even the fact that the database they developed formed the basis of the program.
“Trying to predict who will do what based on last year’s data is bullshit,” Corsaro said in an interview.
Representatives Palantir sometimes they mentioned their work in New Orleans. However, none of the available company presentations that I was able to see The Verge, did not contain details regarding the individualized system for determining the probability of a crime, and there was no information about the use and analysis of data from social networks in order to predict crimes. In contrast, the company described its activities in New Orleans as “the study of the statistics of the commission of particularly brutal crimes and the development of a strategy of point effects in order to protect the most vulnerable segments of the city’s population”.
Civil Rights Specialist Courtney Bowman, actively involved in securing a partnership between Palantir and the city police, in a public speech, praised the company's performance in New Orleans, but acknowledged that excessive closeness of the project could exacerbate the gap between law enforcement and communities that feel undue pressure from the police.
At the 6 held in May 2016 of the year presentations companies (as part of the Berkeley High School Information Conference Data edge) Bowman stated:
“Such programs can be effective only if the society agrees with which areas of their lives will be analyzed, and also be aware of how the information obtained will be used.”
Neither the administration of New Orleans nor Palantir did not comment on how their partnership was formed and what kind of information provided by officials and society is used for forecasting.
Ronal Serpas, who led the New Orleans police at the beginning of his collaboration with Palantir, he shared that he himself was convinced of the need to notify the municipality and the general public about the decision of the police to launch a crime prevention program. The role of local legislative and governing bodies in overseeing the provision of access to government data has not yet been regulated. However, Serpas is confident that cooperation with companies like Palantir will provide more thorough control.
“In my opinion, this undoubtedly requires an assessment and an outside view,” says Serpas.
Despite the fact that neither employees PalantirNew Orleans officials do not want to disclose the mechanism of the daily activities of the program, the Verge documents received, external research, and the memories of the former head of Serpas allow to outline the scheme of this beta test over the past six years.
The predictive model of the company in New Orleans used the method of analyzing social networks to establish connections between people, places, cars, weapons, addresses, posts, and other clues among previously disparate databases.
Such an analysis can be presented as a practical version of Mark Lombardi's diagrams depicting connections between people, places and events. After entering a request - like a part of a license plate, a nickname, an address, a phone number, a name or a post on a social network - the policeman examines the information collected Palantir and based on connections with known victims and criminals, determines who is more likely to commit a crime or suffer from it.
Data was collected from social networks, as well as from forensic databases on ballistic examinations, criminal groups, conditional sentences and parole, phone calls from prisons, from the base of the central court system (that is, all cases documented by the police) and from the repository of police records. The latest database is all documented police conversations with citizens, including those that did not lead to detentions. According to the message The Times-Picayune, in 2010, by decree of the head of the Serpas police, the protocols were recognized as an indicator of the effectiveness of the work of the police officers, which led to the completion of more than 70 and 000 protocols in 2011 and 2012.
This practice was reminiscent of the “Stop and Search” police approach in New York and was introduced to collect as much information as possible about New Orleans residents, regardless of whether they committed crimes.
Part of the license plate of the car, nickname, address, phone number, name in the social network
The police then used the formed Palantir a list of potential victims and offenders to monitor individuals as part of the urban ceasefire program. The ceasefire program is a form of a carrot and stick carrot policy developed by Professor David Kennedy of the J. Jay College in New York. During this program, law enforcement agencies inform potential offenders with a criminal past that they know their past and in the event of a relapse they will be brought to justice with the most severe punishment.
If the subjects agree to cooperate, they are invited to a mandatory meeting on parole, where they will be offered vocational training, education, potential employment and health services. The ceasefire program in New Orleans is being implemented under the leadership of the New Orleans for Life organization ("NOLA For Life") - and this, in turn, is the project of the mayor of the city of Landry, funded by multi-million private donations.
According to Serpas, originally from 2013 to 2015, the analysis of social networks in New Orleans was carried out by Jeff Asher, a former intelligence agent who came to the police from the CIA. If someone was killed from a firearm, Asher used the Palantir software to search for individuals related to the victim according to social networks or protocols.
“This analysis reveals the names and connections between people in protocol cards, during car searches, linking victims of crime, whatever the cause. Information of this kind is invaluable for the investigation, ”says Serpas.
According to own documentation PalantirAsher and his colleagues analyze the social networks of all the victims, both dead and injured during the shootings in New Orleans from 2011 to 2013. Using this method, which Asher dubbed the “New Orleans Model,” the police formed a list of 3900 people at greatest risk of armed violence because of their association with former attackers or their victims.
"We can install 30-40% of future victims of shooting," - says Asher at the internal conference Palantir in 2014 year. He declined multiple offers to be interviewed.
"Model of New Orleans"
Presumably, Asher’s approach was largely influenced by a study by Andrew Papachristos, a professor at Yale University who tracked the spread of violence like an infectious disease through a network of associations. However, since his work was used as a scientific basis for his work. PredPol and the Chicago Police Department, Papachristos, tried to isolate his research from these methods.
After forming a list of potential criminals and their victims, the police department and social services officers chose those who were either detained or under judicial supervision in order to schedule a meeting for them - it was a “carrot” from “NOLA For Life».
Mayor Landrew has often advertised the program, presenting it as an integral part of the New Orleans criminal justice policy. Palantir also attributed merit to herself:
“We are helping to break the cycle of violence in New Orleans,” the article said in a technical report on the company's charity in 2015. However, the real contribution of the company is not entirely clear.
Of the 308 people who participated in the meetings from October 2012 to March 2017, seven completed vocational training, nine received work experience, but none received a high school diploma or high school diploma. Participant's 32 were employed from time to time in the direction, and 50 were detained. Two more died.
At the same time, law enforcement agencies actively pursued their program goals. From November 2012 of the year (then a new interdepartmental department for combating organized crime was formed) to March 2014, the number of extortion charges increased dramatically: according to internal According to Palantir, 83 of the alleged members of the eight gangs were sentenced to periods up to 16 months.
The city authorities have compiled a list of 3900 people at risk of armed violence.
The number of meetings with probable criminals dropped sharply after the first few years. According to the municipality, in the period from 2012 to 2014, eight group meetings took place, and only three in the next three years. Robert Goodman, a New Orleans native who became a public activist after imprisonment for murder, worked as a “respondent” in the city’s ceasefire program until August 2016, preventing people from engaging in counter-violence.
Over time, Goodman noticed the emphasis of the program on the “whip” and the strong control over its incentive aspect by the municipality, which, in his opinion, undermines all efforts made.
“The program should be carried out by people like us, and not by the dictatorship of the city hall. Until the funds are sent in the right direction, nothing will change. It’s like a dead poultice, ”he says.
After the first two years of police cooperation with Palantir there was a sharp decline in the number of killings and armed attacks, but success was short term. Even the former head of the Serpas police is convinced that the preventive effect of organizing meetings with dozens of persons at risk — and the accusations against them — has begun to subside.
Nick Corsaro, a professor at the University of Cincinnati, who assisted the New Orleans police in building a database of criminal gangs, also worked on evaluating the cease-fire strategy. He found out that, altogether, the reduction in the number of murders coincided with the program implementation time, in the central districts of the city targeted by this program, “there was no statistically significant reduction corresponding to the start of the program in November 2012 of the year”.
Simply put, the study did not confirm the claims of Palantir and the city authorities that it was their intervention in the privacy of citizens for data analysis that led to a temporary reduction in violent crimes.
Although meetings with likely criminals ceased to be held, e-mails received by the staff of our publication indicated that the New Orleans police station continued to use the program Palantir to ensure law and order. The company rejected all requests to comment on the situation, but the letters showed that the company was aware of the potential risks of using predictive algorithms and the hype that had risen around it.
23 May 2016, a specialist in ensuring the integrity of civil liberties in Palantir Courtney Bowman responded to a request from a forensic scientist from the New Orleans Police Department, Zack Donini, about whether Palantir can help create a system to determine the likelihood of a crime or the risk of being victimized.
"I have serious doubts about the introduction of such a rating system", - Wrote Bowman “It is because of this that the Chicago police system was strongly criticized by the public,” Bowman continues, citing two articles criticizing the predictive approach of the Chicago police.
“The growing fears are connected with the fact that the opaque algorithm replaces a more consistent and qualitative assessment of a person’s guilt by the appearance of quantitative confidence,” Bowman said. “One of the real advantages of our work on the analysis of social networks is that the machine has not completely replaced a person. Thus, we can be sure that social networks are reviewed and analyzed with sufficient seriousness. ”
Ignoring the steady decline in homicides in New Orleans, Palantir he used his connections with the New Orleans Police Department to conclude large contracts with other US cities. Later, the company received lucrative contracts for creating forecasting programs from other governments.
According to discovered emails at the end of 2013, the sales staff Palantir turned to the Chicago police station with a proposal to buy predictive software tested in New Orleans, for three million dollars. With the help of several federal grants provided to the Chicago police station since 2009, the police and researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology have already created their own crime prediction program, which is able to calculate the risk level for a person based on criminal statistics and on social networks.
19 August 2014, Katie Laidlow, Palantir Sales Manager, wrote to Chicago Chief of Police Jonathan Lewin: “I would like to contact Officer McCarthy about possible cooperation with our company on the basis of proven success in reducing New Orleans killings.”
The letters also revealed that Chicago police hoped to receive a grant from the Department of Homeland Security for the purchase of software. Palantir. However, neither the testing nor the purchase of the program has taken place.
Police chief Lewin, in charge of their own predictive model and participant in negotiations with Katie Laidlow on the program purchase. Palantir, in an interview, said he knew about cooperation Palantir with the law enforcement agencies of other cities, but never approved either the testing program or its acquisition.
The company failed to sell its product to the Chicago police, but it gained fame among foreign security services.
To purchase software Palantir Denmark had to get an exemption from the European Union data protection regulations.
In 2016, the Danish Police and Intelligence Services concluded с Palantir contract for 7 years. The object of the sale was predictive software to identify potential terrorists. Danish newspapers wrote that the cost ranged from 14 to 41 million dollars.
According to procurement documents, to predict the likelihood of a terrorist act, the program uses data from law enforcement agencies: license plates, video from surveillance cameras and police reports. To purchase software Palantir Denmark had to get liberation data protection regulations of the European Union.
Before a contract with Denmark in 2016, in work reports Palantir Technologies no law enforcement programs were ever mentioned for prediction.
In 2017, in a liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz appeared message that the Israeli intelligence services used analysis systems that searched social networks and other data sources to identify likely lone criminals from Palestinian settlements on the west bank of the Jordan River.
It was also noted that Palantir - one of two organizations that could provide predictive intelligent systems to Israeli intelligence services. Project Palantir in New Orleans, this is the first known use of social media data by this company.
“I’m not surprised that people are arrested abroad with this information,” said Jason Williams, chairman of the council of New Orleans, pointing out differences in the judicial systems of Israel and the United States. “Using technology to circumvent the Constitution is the last thing I would like to see in my country.”
Major cities throughout the United States, such as New York, are now considering bills to control the algorithms that governments use when making decisions.
This discussion has yet to begin in New Orleans, a city where most of the political speeches are devoted to the ever-decreasing level of crime. However, the secrecy of relationships Palantir and the New Orleans police are worrying outsiders and multiplying questions about how company algorithms are used.
William Isaac, a scientist from the University of Michigan, analyzed predictive police systems for bias and stated that he had long suspected Palantir in creating such a program.
“In public, they only spoke about how their technology copes with data contradictions and visualizes.”
After studying the project documents Palantir in New Orleans, Isaac remarked that the program is incredibly similar to the “risk list” system in Chicago. The RAND strategic research center also found that this system had no effect on the number of serious crimes, and the list was surprisingly many young African-Americans and Latin Americans who had problems with the law before.
“If you are going to predict something, you need to have a complete picture of it. If you are trying to prevent a crime, you need to have positive and negative examples of predicting a possible offense, ”explains Isaac.
The police stations have such a problem - there is a lot of data about the areas where they work, and little about those where they are not so active (usually, wealthy people of the European race usually prevail).
“The same flaws as in the Chicago prediction system, and in the New Orleans setting, they will only get worse,” Isaac continues.
The secrecy surrounding the New Orleans police program is also in doubt as to whether the accused received evidence that they had the right to see. Sarah St. Vincent, a researcher from Human Rights Watch (a non-governmental organization monitoring, investigating and documenting human rights violations) recently published an 18-month investigation on the subject of hiding evidence obtained by law enforcement agencies during surveillance of a suspect.
In an interview, St. Vincent stated that hiding the collected data (this is characterized, in particular, by the work of the forecasting program in New Orleans) seriously undermines the system of checks and balances in criminal proceedings. In December 2017 on Conference The Cato Investigation Institute, St. Vincent raised the question of why information gathered by the police through predictive systems does not appear in indictments or lawsuits.
"It is the judge who must assess whether the actions of the authorities are legitimate in this case," says St. Vincent. “Defense lawyers will be right if they express concerns about using data that may be biased or unreliable.”
If only about cooperation Palantir and the New Orleans police knew that legality, transparency, and legality could be discussed at some forum, with lawyers, law enforcement officials, company representatives, and the public taking part in the discussion. But in six years it never happened.
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