The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is looking to slap elections consultancy Cambridge Analytica with a search warrant after it was accused of abusing the personal data of Facebook users.
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is currently in the process of getting an urgent court order so that officials from the comission can search company’s London-based headquarters for further evidence.
A spokesperson for the ICO explained that the public body approached Cambridge Analytica earlier in the year to access its data, but it failed to adhere to a deadline.
“Therefore, the information commissioner is seeking a warrant to obtain information and access to systems and evidence related to her investigation,” the spokesperson said.
Facebook reportedly entered the offices of Cambridge Analytica last night to conduct its own audit, but Denham has since shut this down over fears that it could jeopardise the ICO’s investigation.
“Such a search would potentially compromise a regulatory investigation,” said the spokesperson.
Damian Collins MP, the chair of the Culture Select Committee, questioned Facebook’s motives for its own investigation. Speaking to the BBC, he said: “Facebook sent in data analysts and lawyers who they appointed, what they intended to do there, who knows?
“The concern would have been, were they removing information or evidence which could have been vital to the investigation? It’s right they stood down but it’s astonishing they were there in the first place.”
How the story unfolded
Cambridge Analytica has been accused of gaining unauthorised access to more than 50 million Facebook users and using their personal information to sway election results – including the 2016 US presidental election and Brexit referendum.
Over the weekend, Chris Wylie – a former contractor at the company – claimed that the the firm had built an app to target individual Facebook users with political messaging. Cambridge Analytica denied that it was using Facebook data.
Two years ago, Facebook asked Wylie to delete the datasets he had, something he said he had done. Facebook failed to follow up with checks he said, claiming that Cambridge Analytica had kept the data of 50 million people.
This week Facebook suspended the company for breaching its terms and agreements. It also suspended Wylie’s account.
On Monday, video footage of Cambridge Analytica executives boasting that they could use honey traps and bribery techniques to bring down politicians aired on Channel 4 News.
When asked about the type of “deep digging” happening at the firm, CEO Alexander Nix explained that it was capable of “a lot more than that”.
He suggested that the firm could bribe public officials by giving them deals that are “too good to be true” and by recording negotiations. Nix even said the firm could “send some girls around to the [political] candidate’s house”.
Cambridge Analytica has slammed the video – claiming that the conversations were exaggerated. In a statement, the firm said it had “entertained a series of ludicrous hypothetical scenarios” to please a client.
The firm said it “does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps.”
While Cambridge Analytica faces challenges, Facebook has also been hit hard by the incident. As the BBC reports, shares plummeted by as much as 6.7 per cent on Tuesday – taking $37 billion from the firm’s valuation.
According to Reuters, Alex Stamos – who is currently Facebook’s chief information security officer – could leave the company by August. He is allegedly packing his bags due to data privacy concerns.
Sources with an understanding of the situation claim that Facebook has already altered Stamos’ role so that he is not working on the firm’s campaign to tackle fake news.
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