Cambridge Analytica Parent Fined £15,000 Over Data Refusal

Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Elections, has been fined £15,000 for ignoring a US citizen’s request to disclose the data the company held on him.

Political consultancy SCL, which went into administration last May following the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook data scandal, admitted it had not complied with an enforcement notice from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

At the time, the company told the ICO that as a US citizen, Prof David Carroll had no more right to request access to the data “than a member of the Taliban sitting in a cave in Afghanistan”, The Guardian reported.

The company pleaded guilty to having breached the Data Protection Act at a hearing at Hendon magistrates court.

Personal data

At the time of the 2016 US presidential elections, SCL boasted it had built up profiles on up to 240 million US citizens, with 4,000 to 5,000 data points on each voter.

The following year, Carroll asked SCL to provide him with a copy of the data it held on him, and also filed a complaint with the ICO.

In March of 2018 he was sent a file containing basic information, as well as SCL’s projections on how he was likely to vote.

He responded by demanding the full data set, including the information that formed the basis for SCL’s projections.

The ICO also agreed that SCL was holding back information, and issued an enforcement notice, which arrived the day after SCL went into administration.

In a live stream on Twitter, Carroll called the trial a “test case” that he hoped would “make it easier for others to recover their data”.

“Cambridge Analytica would rather be called criminals and be fined than hand over the data, which I find very strange,” he said.

He has brought a civil case in addition to the criminal case currently being tried, and that is due to be heard in March.

‘Warning’

“This prosecution, the first against Cambridge Analytica, is a warning that there are consequences for ignoring the law,” said information commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

“Organisations that handle personal data must respect people’s legal privacy rights. Where that does not happen and companies ignore ICO enforcement notices, we will take action.”

The ICO has already fined Facebook a record £500,000 for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal and said its investigation into SCL is ongoing.

SCL Elections’ administrators, Crowe UK, said in a statement that it would “fully co-operate with the ICO regarding the company”.

Data protection actions are expected to become significantly more costly beginning this year, after tougher European legislation came into effect last May.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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