Information Commissioner’s interim report on data analytics and political campaigns

Yesterday the Information Commissioner’s Office published a progress report on the Commissioner’s investigation into the use of data analytics in political campaigns, mainly with reference to the 2016 UK EU referendum and US Presidential elections.  The events in question are principally being considered under the Data Protection Act 1998, since they occurred prior to 25 May 2018 when the GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 came into effect.

The report is wide ranging and considers the involvement of a range of entities and sectors including social media companies, political campaigns and parties, data analytics companies, data brokers and academia.

The report looks at a range of factors including:

  • the relationships and roles of the various entities involved;
  • the technology and methodologies used to process data;
  • the lawful basis for processing data; and
  • what individuals had been told about what would happen to their data. 

The Commissioner has raised a number of concerns about compliance under the Data Protection Act 1998 and related legislation.  These include how data was obtained and used by various entities, including political parties and campaigns and the inadequacies in the fair processing information given by those organisations to individuals.

The Commissioner has issued Facebook with a Notice of Intent to issue a monetary penalty notice of £500,000, the maximum fine available under the 1998 Act.  Facebook has until later this month to submit its response to the Notice of Intent.  The Commissioner is also taking or considering a range of other enforcement action against organisations named in the report, including undertaking audits and in some cases the Commissioner is considering potential criminal prosecutions. 

Alongside the progress report, the Commissioner has also published a policy report making a number of recommendations for future changes to the law and practice in this area.

The Commissioner’s inquiries are ongoing; it is expected that the current phase of the investigation will conclude in October.  Alongside the Commissioner’s investigation, other inquiries and investigations have been undertaken by regulators, law enforcement and parliamentary committees in the UK and abroad.

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