back to article ICO probes use of data analytics by politicos following Brexit vote

The UK's Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has opened a formal investigation into the use of big data analysis during the Brexit referendum. Denham has also written to all political parties warning them to follow data protection and processing rules as they apply to campaigning in the run-up to the General Election …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Denham noted this will be a complex investigation requiring co-operation from political parties, social media platforms and data analysis companies both within the UK and abroad.

    And why does she think that a foreign company specialized in rigging the elections in various places we like to meddle with is going to cooperate? What exactly will make it cooperate? Asking it "Pretty Please, we understand that you were quite good in rigging elections in 20 odd countries half of which are now either dictatorships or mid-civil war, can you please assist us with our query regarding you screwing our country too?"

    Yeah, bollocks. Until the DPA develops politics specific teeth (not that this will ever be allowed) and is capable of disqualifying a political party for breaking the law and making election results void it will be exactly like in my fav Russian extra fable added to the Aesop ones by Krylov. The fable about the cook and the cat. The cook catches the cat in the act of stealing a huge slice of ham from the kitchen and starts chastizing it: "You bad kitty, how can you be so bad and incosiderate, blah.. blah... blahh". And the cat continues eating. "А Васька слушает да ест".

  2. Rob D.

    Tricky but important

    The ICO probe is going to have to deal with a few tricky but important factors.

    1. There are enough gullible, er, undecided people who can be manipulated through what they read/see on social media or through targeted advertising that being able to identify the means to interact with the relevant number of gullible/undecided people in the relevant (swing) constituencies gives a significant advantage which undermines several democratic principles especially in a first-past-the-post system. (Maybe changing minds is too much to expect but confirmation bias is more subtle and entirely achievable.)

    2. The ability to carry out most of this work (harvesting data, analysing data, interacting with the target audience) from outside the UK puts it beyond the jurisdiction of Electoral Law as it stands in the UK. Establishing a legally sound link from such remote activity back to responsible individuals who are within UK jurisdiction let alone applying adequate sanction will inevitably be challenging (have a look at Mercer, Farage, et al for an interesting case study).

    3. The immediacy of election results and the declaration/acceptance of the outcome is mismatched with the length of time any real investigation would take. Being able to identify activity that may or may not have influenced an election a year after the result is accepted doesn't help unless the law permits an immediate re-election and unwinding of interim effects (which just seems implausible).

    This particular problem has the potential to significantly influence most democratic processes if it enables the balance of power to be influenced by anyone with the means to acquire the information, analyse it, and apply it to affect voting outcomes in a way that cannot be effectively countered by those without such means. We already see an imbalance in the blunt instrument of finances available to political parties - this introduces a more surgical tool that could be applied if not invisibly at least partially in the shadows.

    1. subject

      Re: Tricky but important

      Excellent points.

      That said, re the extraterritoriality point (2) the GDPR was enacted PRIOR to the referendum. By the time the ICO gets around to enforcement, we'll be in the enforcement phase anyway. New territory, but the ICO has options. Of course Cambridge Analytica would never interfere in elections, but if they were considering doing so then a 4% bite of worldwide revenues per election might put them off their stride.

      If that won't fly, then even under existing English anyone (from your first point) feeling they've been conned might be able to do them for a couple of thousand quid each. (Since Woolley v Akram Scots law also has come up to the mark). Group litigation, anyone?

      Likewise a 20 million fine of each and every manipulative political party might slow them down too. (Or else increase taxes to pay for the fines)

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