UK looks at analytics in political campaigns

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Wednesday, 07 November, 2018

UK looks at analytics in political campaigns

The UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has launched a public consultation into the use of personal information and data analytics in political campaigns, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier in the year.

The consultation seeks to ensure that all organisations involved in political campaigning use personal information in a way that is transparent, understood by the public and lawful.

According to the ICO, this goal will be balanced against the need to maintain the ability for political parties to communicate effectively with voters.

The consultation focuses around the ICO's proposal to the UK government that a statutory code of practice be introduced as part of the Data Protection Act 2018 covering the use of personal information into campaigns.

A statutory code of practice is not legally binding, but can be used as evidence during court proceedings and a defendant's compliance or lack thereof with the code can be taken into consideration by a court or tribunal while reaching a decision.

The proposed code would apply to all data holders who process personal data for the political campaigning, which can include political parties, candidates, referenda participants and third-party campaigners.

The ICO has proposed to consult widely with all relevant stakeholders — including political parties, campaign groups, data brokers, regulators and companies providing online marketing platforms — on the design of the code.

The agency made the recommendation in its July report into the potential impact of social marketing and the spread of "fake news" on the democratic process.

This report was produced following the revelations that Cambridge Analytica had been using profile information harvested from the friends lists of Facebook users who had agreed to take an online "personality quiz" to design highly targeted social media marketing for political campaigns such as Donald Trump's successful run for the US presidency.

It had been suspected that various Leaves campaigns during the Brexit referendum had been making use of Cambridge Analytica's services.

The ICO's investigations into the use of data analytics in political campaigns found that despite allegations, while advocacy organisation Leave.EU had met with Cambridge Analytica staff to discuss a potential deal, both parties said the negotiations fell apart after Leave.EU was not picked as the official Leave campaign.

But the UK Independence Party (UKIP) has been stonewalling the ICO's attempts to investigate its use of analytics in its leave campaigning, so the ICO has been unable to progress this part of the investigating until a legal challenge has been heard.

The ICO's report and consultation comes at an apposite time, due to the attention being paid to the integrity of elections in the lead-up to the in-progress US Midterm Elections.

US officials have been warning for months of the potential for foreign powers such as Russia and China to disrupt the election process in the US. The US Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring today's election for signs of such tampering.

The department has stated that to date it has uncovered no widespread attempt to hack the mid-term elections, but that it has uncovered evidence as part of its monitoring of the election that both intentional and unintentional disinformation campaigns are being spread in an attempt to influence the outcome.

Image credit: ©picsfive/Dollar Photo Club

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