Despite Trump’s fervent wishes, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation shows no signs of slowing down and indeed seems to be picking up steam going into the new year. He’s already claimed three indictments, including former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, as well as a plea deal from disgraced National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Things are bad in Trumpland and promise to get worse.
For some time now, there has been speculation that more of the Trump team could be going down soon, and a new bombshell seems to confirm that. Yahoo News reports that Mueller’s team has been questioning the Republican National Committee about its data operations. The efforts were part of a joint-operation between the RNC and the Trump team, and managed by Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Mueller hopes to discover whether or not Kushner’s team helped Russian bots and trolls to disseminate misinformation and fake news during the election in order to influence voters or if they engaged in any other manner of illicit collusion.
Kushner was responsible for introducing the Trump campaign to Cambridge Analytica, a data company where Steve Bannon formerly served as Vice President and which is partially owned by avid Trump supporter and megadonor Robert Mercer.
This is not the first time that the possibility of Cambridge Analytica cooperating with Russia has been suggested, but it’s the first indication that it’s a scenario that Mueller is taking seriously. Previously, it was revealed that the data company reached out to Wikileaks — suspected by many to be a pseudo-intelligence apparatus for the Russian Federation — with an offer to help distribute Secretary Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails.
The data company has also come under fire in the United Kingdom, where a lawsuit threatens to reveal the inner workings of their operations. Mother Jones previously reported that the company may have processed the data of American voters in the UK. While the United States has lax data laws, meaning Americans have little recourse for pushing back against the collection of their data, the UK has much stricter rules.
In February of 2017, Professor David Caroll made an official request that Cambridge Analytica hand over the personal data they had compiled on him. In response, the company sent him a short summary of data points they had collected on him.
Their analysis of his political profile, constructed to help them predict his voting patterns, was largely accurate. He shared the information on Twitter. Caroll and many of his followers were disturbed by the information, which had been gathered en masse without his knowledge or consent, then shared with unknown parties. Wrote Jackie Flynn Mogenson of Mother Jones:
“But what was particularly problematic for Carroll was that, he believes, the profile the company sent him wasn’t nearly comprehensive. Nix and other Cambridge Analytica executives have boasted that the company has up to a startling 5,000 data points on each of the 230 million voters in the US. What Carroll received in March, according to his tweet at the time, was about 200 data points, and, even then, it wasn’t clear how or where the company got the data or who it was shared with, beyond the vague descriptions in the letter.”
The data came from British company SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, leading Caroll to suspect that the data on Americans had been collected and compiled in the United Kingdom, making it subject to British laws, specifically the 1998 British Data Protection Act. Legal experts on Twitter quickly informed Caroll that the data collection he had been subjected to was in fact illegal.
Caroll and a group of anonymous Americans banded together and hired solicitor Ravi Naik for the lawsuit, which Caroll says they plan to officially file early next year. Wrote Mogenson of the suit:
“This case, the group hopes, will clarify the legal requirements for British data-collecting companies—including those with information on non-European citizens. More specifically, the Data Protection Act also states that companies must obtain ‘explicit consent’ from individuals before processing sensitive personal data, including ‘political opinions.’ Cambridge Analytica, Naik argues, failed to obtain consent from American voters in 2016. ‘What the European regulations on data protection make clear is that if you want to collect and process sensitive personal data here, you should get consent to do so,’ Naik tells Mother Jones. ‘Political opinions are recognized as a class of sensitive personal data, as information deserving of higher protection.”
Depending on how the case shapes up, it could end up fully exposing how and why data was used to influence the 2016 election. Ideally, a positive outcome would also give voters the option to opt out of such data collection and analysis.
Perhaps most interestingly, the results could finally crack open the whole rotten egg that is the Trump campaign and reveal what role Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, and Donald Trump played in the data collection company’s possible criminality or possible Russian collusion.
Cambridge Analytica boasts that it employs “psychographics” as opposed to the more traditional demographics approach. Psychographics are purported to break down an individual’s personality in a more in-depth fashion and use that profile to predict behavior. It’s conceivable that Kushner directed that this information be handed over to Russians so they could use it to pinpoint their efforts to specific, susceptible American voters.
“People don’t realize that all of their consumer behavior—every time they swipe their credit card, what websites they visit, the TV shows they watch—is being re-connected to your voter file and processed internationally. And we can’t opt out of it,” Caroll told Mother Jones.
Molly McKew, a specialist on U.S.-Russia relations, spoke to Mother Jones about the frightening implications of Cambridge Analytica’s practices. She points out that the company is, by their own admission, seeking to influence elections all around the globe.
“Nobody wants to believe that information, coming from some place they don’t really understand, could change how they think or what their decisions are, but it can—for any of us. Why does some company incorporated in the United Kingdom have [our data]? What the hell is that for? If it were just about selling shoes, or getting you to buy vitamins or whatever crap—ok, fine. But that’s not what it’s being used for, and they specifically say that. [SCL] is a company that’s marketing themselves as a military-grade psychological warfare and psychological operations company. That is a problem for all of us,” told Mother Jones.
In preparation for the lawsuit, Caroll and his fellow plaintiffs are using crowdfunding to cover any unexpected expenses or setbacks. Click here to donate. Hopefully, through the brave actions of these concerned citizens, the entire country will get a clearer view of how democracy was subverted, so that we can prevent it from happening again.