Reply to post: Tricky but important

ICO probes use of data analytics by politicos following Brexit vote

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.

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