Trump’s nebulous data vendor Cambridge Analytica just got nailed with an order from the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to turn over complete data and its source to an American professor requesting his own information. This is a groundbreaking precedent that will allow Americans to find out what data GOP megadonors and Trump backers the Mercer family and Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare company has collected to manipulate their political opinions.
New York-based Professor David Carroll used the UK’s 1998 Data Protection Act to request that Cambridge Analytica turn over the data they collected about his psychological profile and voting habits. When CA gave him a limited response, the professor exercised his rights to demand complete disclosure and complained to the ICO, who today finally sided entirely with Carroll.
Now, Cambridge Analytica has been ordered within 30 days to turn over the source of its data, copies of the information, a complete description of the purposes, recipients and more, or face criminal charges. The Guardian‘s Carole Cadwalladr reports:
The test case was taken to the ICO by David Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons School of Design in New York. As a US citizen, he had no means of obtaining this information under US law, but in January 2016 he discovered Cambridge Analytica had processed US voter data in the UK and that this gave him rights under British laws.
Cambridge Analytica had refused to accept this and told the ICO that Carroll was no more entitled to make a so-called “subject access request” under the UK Data Protection Act “than a member of the Taliban sitting in a cave in the remotest corner of Afghanistan”.
Cambridge Analytica has 28 days to file an appeal of the order, but based on the desperation of their above argument, the case doesn’t look very favorable to them.
“To have the audacity to say that American voters are no different than jihadis in a cave is pretty shocking,” Professor Caroll told the Guardian, where he described Cambridge Analytica’s outfit as “digital colonialism” and that he has, “proved what we’ve been saying for a long time: this is not a normal company.”
“This should solve a lot of mysteries about what the company did with data and where it got it from,” the Parsons School of Design professor says.
Significantly, the ICO’s order demands “a description as to the source of that personal data” about Carroll, which presumably, would require them to confess to the use of stolen Facebook data from 87 million Americans or face prosecution.
While Cambridge Analytica’s troubles mount, their parent company SCL Group has undertaken an aggressive corporate re-organization to join forces with mercenary CEO-for-hire Erik Prince, who is under investigation for his role creating a back channel to Putin during the Trump transition. The Guardian‘s Wendy Siegelman reports:
While Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group began to be the focus of more media scrutiny, in the background, company executives were quietly setting up a new company.
Emerdata Limited was incorporated in August 2017 with SCL Group’s chairman, Julian Wheatland, and SCL’s chief data officer, Alexander Tayler, as original owners, but the company suddenly expanded with new directors and funding this year.
The business purpose of Emerdata is not known, beyond the general description of “data processing, hosting and related activities”. However, in a Channel 4 News report, the SCL Group founder, Nigel Oakes, said it was his understanding that Emerdata was set up to acquire all of Cambridge Analytica and SCL.
“We are aware of recent media reports concerning Cambridge Analytica’s future but whether or not the people behind the company decide to fold their operation, a continued refusal to engage with the ICO will potentially breach an Enforcement Notice and that then becomes a criminal matter,” says the UK’s Information Commissioner Elisabeth Denham.
“The company has consistently refused to co-operate with our investigation into this case,” Denham noted, which is probably why her office dramatically raided Cambridge Analytica last month, “and has refused to answer our specific enquiries in relation to the complainant’s personal data – what they had, where they got it from and on what legal basis they held it.”
Big data from the Trump Campaign’s “Project Alamo” – which deployed London-based Cambridge Analytica’s psychographic modeling – was used to target both the Republicans’ campaign rallies, as well as online messaging through Facebook.
But it is illegal to use foreign campaign workers in American elections, and the company’s executives admitted to doing just that in a recent hidden camera investigation, in addition to their use of blackmail tactics.
Finally, the company’s transatlantic operations – seemingly aimed at hiding political influence operations in both America and the UK – have transformed into a transatlantic legal quagmire for the firm.
US privacy law amounts to nothing more tangible than air kisses and rainbows when it comes to exposing who acquires and uses our personal data, and their sources, methods and purposes.
Today’s ruling in favor of Professor Carroll by the UK Information Commissioners Office is a boon to American voters who want to use the teeth of tough British laws to learn how big data is being used to manipulate public political opinion and, ultimately, votes.