Information Commissioner Seeks Warrant In Cambridge Analytica Probe

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

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The company allegedly exploited the personal data of 50 million Facebook users to sway the US presidential election

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham has said she plans to seek a warrant to examine the computer systems used by Cambridge Analytica in an ongoing controversy about the firm’s alleged use of personal data on tens of millions of individuals improperly obtained from Facebook.

Christopher Wylie, a former contractor with the company, alleges it used information gathered on 50 million Facebook users as part of an academic research project in a campaign aimed at influencing the US presidential election. Cambridge Analytica denies the claims, saying it deleted the data.

The New York Times and the Observer published reports on Wylie’s allegations over the weekend, saying their investigation found evidence that Cambridge Analytica not only used the data, but still possesses most or all of it.

On Monday evening, Channel 4 News broadcast the results of its own investigation. The broadcaster showed secretly recorded conversations with senior Cambridge Analytica executives in which they boast of their ability to sway elections using digital and political trickery.

data centre, facebook

‘Shocked’

“I think we should all be shocked by this,” Denham told Channel 4.

She said she had demanded access to the Cambridge Analytica’s data systems by 6 p.m. GMT, but the firm hadn’t complied.

“I’m not accepting their response so therefore I’ll be applying to the court for a warrant,” Denham said. “We need to get in there, we need to look at the databases, we need to look at the servers and understand how data was processed or deleted by Cambridge Analytica.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is already conducting a probe into the way personal data has been used in British political campaigns. That investigation involves Cambridge Analytica and Facebook as well as 30 other organisations and political parties.

Facebook has said it is conducting its own probe that includes audits of Cambridge Analytica and Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge academic who originally gathered the data.

Policy violation

“If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook’s policies and an unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made,” Facebook stated.

In Channel 4’s programme, an undercover reporter posed as a Sri Lankan businessman looking to discredit a political rival.

Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix appears in the secret recordings giving examples of how the company could make the necessary arrangements.

Nix told the BBC’s Newsnight the report was a “misrepresentation of the facts”, adding he felt the company had been “deliberately entrapped”.

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