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Cambridge Analytica: ICO Seeks Warrant to Search London Office

The company accused of harvesting and misusing the personal data of 50 million Facebook users may have its London Headquarters searched by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) today. Following another shocking expose from Channel 4 last night, the ICO confirmed that it was seeking an urgent court order to search the premises. 

According to The Guardian, an ICO spokesperson said the commission had issued a demand to access CA’s records and data: “Cambridge Analytica has not responded to the commissioner by the deadline provided; therefore, the information commissioner is seeking a warrant to obtain information and access to systems and evidence related to her investigation.” 

The ICO has also requested that Facebook, who engaged cybersecurity consultants, Stroz Friedberg, to an audit, leave the CA London office so it could pursue its own investigation. According to the ICO spokesperson, Facebook has agreed to stop its search. 

Cambridge Analytica released a statement following the expose on Channel 4, which saw an undercover reporter posing as a fixer for a potential client have an exchange with CEO Alexander Nix. In the exchange, Nix seemingly confirmed that the company secretly campaigns in elections across the globe, including operating through a web of front companies or by using sub-contractors. 

Nix also seemed to confirm that the company used tactics such as bribery and honeypot traps to influence elections. Admissions were filmed at a series of meetings at London hotels over four months, between November 2017 and January 2018. 

In its statement, CA said: “The Channel 4 News report contained conversations between Cambridge Analytica senior executives and an undercover reporter posing as a Sri Lankan businessman. The report is edited and scripted to grossly misrepresent the nature of those conversations and how the company conducts its business.”

Elizabeth Denham, information commissioner, released her own statement last night, which said: “A full understanding of the facts, data flows and data uses is imperative for my ongoing investigation. This includes any new information, statements or evidence that have come to light in recent days.

"Our investigation into the use of personal data for political campaigns, includes the acquisition and use of Facebook data by SCL, Doctor Kogan and Cambridge Analytica.

"This is a complex and far-reaching investigation for my office and any criminal or civil enforcement actions arising from it will be pursued vigorously."

Rob Blackie, founder, Rob Blackie Digital Strategy, believes that this is one of the“most significant actions ever taken by the ICO". Historically they have been relatively passive and have worked on the assumption that companies do what they promise to do. This is a reasonable assumption with risk averse listed companies, but breaks down with organizations like CA.”

In regards to how this might affect other political parties UK, Blackie doesn't think they have much to worry about: “It seems unlikely that political parties in the UK will be in major trouble for data use. The UK’s political parties historically have their own large data sources - created by canvassing face to face and on the phone, as well as surveys posted to people. [The UK] historically has had much tighter data protection laws that the USA, so political parties can do their own modelling, with reputable partners, with no real need for anything underhand.

“If anything comes to light in the UK then it’s likely to be a supplier who hasn’t properly explained their product to the political party they work with. The Leave Brexit campaign is an exception because they’ve made their contempt for UK regulators clear – so if there are any skeletons to be found, they will be there.”

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