By Jeffrey Adams
The lid has blown on the role of data mining firm Cambridge Analytica in assisting the Trump election win. In May 2017 The Guardian wrote an article quoting an unnamed employee at Cambridge Analytica describing the firms’ activities as ‘psychological warfare’ or ‘psych ops’. They were using military style psychological techniques on social media to change voter behaviour. The story has sparked investigation into similar tactics in the UK. Who knows where all this will end but it should end up in court. I think laws have been broken and can explain why.
Technophiles and technophobes are now in chorus saying it was known all along that Facebook sold data – why is this shocking anyone? Certainly data harvesting to sell to third parties for ‘goods and services’ is listed under Facebook UK data policy. But selling data for political leverage should not be classified as a ‘good or service’ or treated by law the same way as selling you a bike. The intention behind those 2 examples are starkly different. When you buy a product or service you are protected by Consumer Law. Data sharing is covered by another law.
Under UK Data Protection:
Personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes. (Data Protection Principles)
Was it specified that groups could buy data for political ends? If Facebook did not know Cambridge Analytica had political ambitions, what were they told? The contract agreement between Cambridge Analytica and Facebook is key, and may prove to be the ‘further processed’ part prohibited by UK law.
The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, covers data in a similar way and also the right to ‘freedom of thought’. Title II article 10.
“Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. The right to conscientious objection is recognised, in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of this right.
Psych ops is designed purely to learn about people’s thoughts and alter them. The bespoke messaging is powerful. If collating and analysing people’s online behaviour,turning that on them psych ops style to win elections, is not tampering with freedom of thought, what is ?
There is another possible spanner in the works. UK Data Protection Law is set to change in May- just weeks away. The changes should not revamp the law to protect or hide any data sharing done by political groups. This law change needs scrutiny. We need an independent investigation into Scot ref, Brexit ref and the 2017 General Election as soon as possible. An investigation needs to happen before all of this is hastily dealt with by a flurry of legislation that protects few, but satisfies the public that on the surface something has been done.
Exposing tech driven election propaganda in the USA is a gift to the Yes movement which has prided itself in face to face contact and independent media. If a provable link is found between data gathering exceeding allowable spend limits, it proves the UK Government cannot protect voters from election meddling.
If evidence is found that groups micro targeted constituencies to oust SNP big hitters in the General Election, the Scottish Government have an opportunity to inform the people of Scotland they have been manipulated.
While all the large political parties have engaged in data gathering and communication with voters, it is the huge sums of money, sleazy tactics and the dissemination of false information to the public that marks this Cambridge Analytica expose as important.
The population needs to catch on, lawmakers need to catch up, and social media giants need to fess up. Democracy can‘t be eroded while we are online posting pictures of a night out. That is not what anyone signed up to.
We need to know more because whoever can buy that data and control how it is used, holds the key to the Kingdom. Our future and that of our children could be changed with the tweak of an algorithm.