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British Court Threatens To Uncover Trump Campaign Secrets

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Those who are closely following the investigation into the Russian interference in the presidential election last year may already be familiar with Cambridge Analytica, the data mining and analysis company owned by billionaire right-wing zealot and Trump supporter Robert Mercer. The company’s role in targeting political advertising for the Trump campaign has raised multiple questions about whether it was involved in helping Russian operatives deliver propaganda messages through Facebook and other social media platforms to receptive eyes in crucial electoral districts during the campaign.

So far, no definitive links between the data firm and the dis-information operation have been publically disclosed, however, an innovative lawsuit filed in  Great Britain by an American professor may soon change all that.

According to an article in The Guardian, the suit by a U.S. citizen utilizing British laws to discover exactly how Cambridge Analytica helped the Trump campaign profile and potentially target him is being described by legal experts as “a watershed.”

The lawsuit was initiated by David Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons School of Design in New York, in a bid to reclaim his personal data from the controversial data analytics firm. While the professor had no recourse under American jurisprudence, British laws on personal data protection do allow people to retrieve their information from companies that access it. While the company is now mostly controlled by Mercer, Trump’s largest donor, and counted Steve Bannon as its Vice President during the election, as its name implies, it was spun out of and still shares staff, directors, and a London office with a British military and elections contractor, giving the UK legal jurisdiction over its actions.

According to Ravi Naik, the British lawyer handling the case for Professor Carroll:

“It’s this fascinating situation because when it became apparent that Cambridge Analytica had processed Americans’ data in Britain, it suddenly opened up this window of opportunity. In the US, Americans have almost no rights over their data whatsoever, but the data protection framework is set up in such a way that it doesn’t matter where people are: it matters where the data is processed.”

“I’m a human rights practitioner and in the past most of my cases were national security issues, but increasingly it’s about data protection and the way people are affected by the misuse of their data. I see this as an issue affecting fundamental rights and it’s taking citizen activism to uncover what’s going on, to request data. I really hear echoes of the civil rights movement in people becoming more aware, more resistant and willing to fight.”

Carroll decided to take up the fight himself when he discovered that Cambridge Analytica had created a profile of him including scores about his opinions on different issues such as gun control, national security, and his likelihood to vote for Republican candidates. He began to wonder where they were getting their information from and how they were using it.

 “There are so many disturbing aspects to this,” he said. “One of the things that really troubles me is how the company can buy anonymous data completely legally from all these different sources, but as soon as it attaches it to voter files, you are re-identified. It means that every privacy policy we have ignored in our use of technology is a broken promise. It would be one thing if this information stayed in the US, if it was an American company and it only did voter data stuff.”

Carroll goes on to argue that the company’s ties to a military contractor in a foreign country with significant business outside the field of voter targeting is more than a little concerning.

Hopefully, this battle between a private citizen and a corporate behemoth will result in better privacy protection for US citizens and provide some critical insight into how Russian propaganda bots targeted and influenced voters in crucial swing districts during the election. As one more piece of the puzzle in the investigation into Russian election hijacking, it could be an extremely important link that brings the bigger picture into focus.

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