Cambridge Analytica has been ordered by the British Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to hand over all the data and personal information, and how it obtained and used that data, on American college professor David Carroll, or face criminal charges. It has 30 days to appeal the order.
Carroll is an associate professor of media design at the School of Art, Media, and Technology at The New School’s Parsons School of Design in New York. He’d requested his data but was provided reams of raw information and wanted details on how it was obtained and then how it was processed and used by Cambridge Analytica. The company had refused.
According to The Guardian, the test case by Carroll, an American citizen without legal recourse in the U.S. to obtain his personal data harvested and used by Cambridge Analytica, was taken up by the ICO which does have the power to enforce data protection laws since the company is UK-based, the “enforcement notice to the company on Friday in a landmark legal decision that opens the way for up to 240 million other American voters to request their data back from the firm under British data protection laws,” it was reported.
Carroll was on to Cambridge Analytica in early 2016. A short video crash course on the now infamous data collection firm can be seen here. Described as candidate Donald Trump’s “digital army” founded and funded by computer scientist, hedge fund manager and GOP billionaire Robert Mercer and had as it’s one time vice president, Stephen K. Bannon, Pres. Trump’s ousted chief strategist and former executive chairman of Breitbart News.
Here’s what you need to know about Carroll:
1. Carroll Wanted More Than His Data, he Wanted Information & Answers on How it Was Obtained & Used. The UK Order For the Company to Pony up Could Open the Floodgates For Millions of Americans to Sue, Too
As explained in the ICO statement and order, as a U.S. citizen, Carroll couldn’t get his data under US law after discovering in January 2016 that Cambridge Analytica had handled American voters information, did business, in other words, in England and that was what gave Carroll rights under UK law. But Cambridge Analytica was not on board and fought the action. At one point during the course of the case, as is revealed in the ICO order, the company told the ICO it did “.. not expect to be further harassed with this sort of correspondence.”
Indeed, as the record shows, Cambridge Analytica ‘parent’ SCL Elections argued Carroll wasn’t entitled under the UK Data Protection Act of 1998 to get his data any more “than a member of the Taliban sitting in a cave in the remotest corner of Afghanistan,” would be able to. But the ICO ruled against the company and now Cambridge Analytica less than a month to abide or appeal.
ICO Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said Cambridge Analytica not only repeatedly refused to cooperate and answer questions about what information it had, how it got it, and how it was used, but on what legal grounds did it think it had the right to Carroll’s information.
“The right to request personal data that an organisation holds about you is a cornerstone right in data protection law and it is important that Professor Carroll, and other members of the public, understand what personal data Cambridge Analytica held and how they analysed it,” Denham said.
The timing of the ICO court ruling comes as Cambridge Analytica said just days ago it would be filing for bankruptcy. But that doesn’t stop ICO enforcement action.
“We are aware of recent media reports concerning Cambridge Analytica’s future but whether or not the people behind the company decide to fold their operation, a continued refusal to engage with the ICO will potentially breach an Enforcement Notice and that then becomes a criminal matter,” Denham said.
And as the company shutters, the UK’s Channel 4 reports, there’s still one affiliate company, Emerdata, run by Mercer’s daughter Rebekah and former Cambridge Analytica chief Alexander Nix, forced to leave his post after video of him surfaced where he explained the ‘honey traps’ and other nefarious machinations employed by the data company.
Damian Collins, the British MP part of the ICO case said all the businesses associated with Cambridge Analytica can close down and that won’t stop enforcement action.
“This is not a normal company. This is a company funded by American billionaires…” Collins told Channel 4.
2.Carroll Co-Wrote About Cambridge Analytica & ’Confronting a Nightmare for Democracy; Personal Data, Personalized Media and Weaponized Propaganda’
Carroll and Justin Hendrix of the NYC Media Lab wrote on Medium that they’d, with help from European researchers and legal experts, “learned Cambridge Analytica was subject to laws that have no parallel in the US. After submitting a request for personal data, a Cambridge Analytica voter profile was delivered and publicly exposed for the first time. Does this prove that our voter data is stored and processed in the UK? Couldn’t our request have been denied if personal data had not left US territory,” it was asked rhetorically.
“Americans don’t have a basic right to request and view our own voter data profiles and ideology models, a right that citizens enjoy in the UK and other European nations. We are concerned as to whether SCL/CA have complied with the UK Data Protection Act of 1998 and have instructed solicitors in the UK to write to them with a view to court action.”
Which is what the ICO ruling is all about.
Four months later, Carroll asked, “How did Cambridge Analytica get our data? Who did they get it from? How did they process it? Who were the recipients of our data? Can we opt-out? Can they justify lawful compliance under UK Data Protection law?”
Carroll wrote that the campaigns of then-presidential primary candidates Ted Cruz and and Donald Trump “hired a very unusual international company called Cambridge Analytica to work on their voter targeting strategies. General Flynn, a key figure in the election hacking and collusion investigation, suspiciously updated his disclosure forms to include a consultancy with the company. He seems to have only admitted to working for Cambridge Analytica after his offer to cooperate with investigators for immunity was rebuffed by the Senate Intelligence Committee. What was he trying to hide,” Carroll questioned. “That’s what we’re trying to find out. We’ve already learned so much and each detail is more unbelievable and disturbing than the next.”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out. We’ve already learned so much and each detail is more unbelievable and disturbing than the next,” Carroll wrote.
3.Carroll & Others Set up a CrowdJustice Fund to Support the Effort
In an explainer on the CrowdJustice fundraising page, Carroll said he and a group of concerned citizens from around the globe were pursuing a court case against Cambridge Analytica “to get our personal data back.”
Carroll wrote that when he asked for and got his data from Cambridge Analytica he “discovered the depth of accurate information they held about me, including modelling my political beliefs, was profound. Even then, we still do not know the full extent of that data, where it came from or who it was given to.”
He wrote the way Americans personal information is being used is “opaque, and can influence every part of your life and even the way the world moves around you. From what ads you see, to your credit reporting profile and from the way elections work to the foreign entities that can exploit your most sensitive personal data.”
The U.S. does not have laws in place to protect Americans. But the UK does. Carroll explained: “That’s why we are going to the UK courts. We are fighting for a legal principle that, in an age of unlimited access to personal data, is fundamental: companies cannot use your data in any way they see fit. Your data is yours and you have a right to control its use.”
So a fund was set up to help with costs, a legal defense fund of sorts. It hasn’t raised a ton of money but may have been under the radar as it’s only now that the breadth of the Facebook data breach, personal information harvested by Cambridge Analytica, numbers in the tens of millions.
“You can be part of history. Donating is the most practical thing you can do to fight back. We need to use the law to speak truth to power, and to create concrete legal frameworks so that our information is not quite so easily manipulated,” he said. And added that anyone who has had their data stolen should “request your data and know what was held and said about you” by Cambridge Analytica.
And the ICO case was the result.
4. The Role of the UK Information Commissioner’s Office is to ‘Uphold Information Rights in the Public Interest’
The ICO is the UK’s independent authority to not only “uphold information rights in the public interest” but to promote ‘openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.”
The Data Protection Act 1998 requires every organization that processes personal information to register with the ICO unless they are exempt and failure to do so is a criminal offence. The ICO has more than half a million registered data controllers and publishes the name and address of these data controllers, as well as a description of the kind of processing they do.
The independent but official authority says it “receives tens of thousands of inquiries, written concerns and complaints” and takes action on “data protection, privacy and electronic communications, regulations, freedom of information and environmental information.” It works beyond the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) saying it works in Europe and internationally.
The ICO is responsible for covering and acts to include Data Protection Act, the Freedom of Information Act, Privacy and Electronic Communications regulations, general data protection regulation, environmental information regulations, and reuse of public sector information regulations.
5. Professor Carroll’s Research & Expertise in Digital Media Includes Art, Design, Education, Sciences, Humanities & Both Private and Public Interest Policy
According to his Parsons bio, Carroll is an associate professor of media design and director of the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Design and Technology graduate program at the School of Art, Media and Technology at Parsons The New School for Design, Carroll’s work in digital media is geared toward “a critical practice and theory of software and interaction design as social engagement.” Carroll’s Center for Mobile Creativity research is funded through grants from Pearson Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Nokia Research Centers.
Before he became a professor, the Bowdoin College graduate who earned a degree in Art History and Religion and who went on to earn an MFA from Parsons in 2000, created commercial multimedia for clients including HBO, AOL, CNN, FOX, ESPN, PBS, Smithsonian, Sony, SI, Time and several others. Carroll has done presentations around the world, sits on the advisory boards of the NYC Media Lab and Adobe’s Partner By Design, is the New School’s agent for the Apple University iPhone Developer Program, and among other awards and accolades, was recognized by the Adobe Education Leader program and is a Nokia Forum PRO member.