The Information Commissioner’s Office has claimed its probe into the use of data analytics for political purposes is the largest investigation ever undertaken by a data protection authority, with over 60 experts working on the case, which will change the behaviour and compliance of all of those involved in the political campaigning space.
Commissioner Elizabeth Denham made the claims in her opening remarks to the European Parliament’s hearing on the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, being led by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE).
The ICO has already revealed it is quizzing over 30 companies in its probe, but has answered criticism that the regulator does not have the resources to carry out a full-blown investigation by insisting the inquiry is “significant and wide ranging”.
Denham said: “We have over 40 of our own investigators full time on the inquiry plus external legal and forensic IT recovery experts. This probably adds a further 20 or so staff. We are looking at over 30 separate organisations and the actions of around a dozen key individuals.
“We are investigating social media platforms, data brokers, analytics firms, political parties and campaign groups and academic institutions. We are looking at both regulatory and criminal breaches.”
The ICO is also working with other regulators, EU data protection authorities and law enforcement in the UK and abroad.
Denham continued: “We have recovered materials, including seizing dozens of servers containing, in total, hundreds of terabytes of data, from searches of several premises and dozens of interviews. We have used the full range of our powers, including formal notices to require information to be provided, our powers of entry under warrant, as well as our audits and inspection powers.”
She said that the ICO is “looking at the complete range of sanctions at our disposal at this time, including our new powers under the new UK Data Protection Act 2018 for no-notice inspections, quicker warrants, to compel delivery of evidence and to seal digital evidence where it cannot be immediately recovered”.
Denham concluded: “This investigation is unprecedented in its scale – we believe it is the largest investigation ever undertaken by a data protection authority. Our investigation and action in this case will change the behaviour and compliance of all of the actors in the political campaigning space. Journalists, whistle blowers, advocates and parliamentarians have played a key role in bringing these issues to public attention.”
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