On 19 March 2018, Channel 4 News broadcast footage which appeared to show the firm's CEO, who has since been suspended, describing how they could deploy improper tactics to smear candidates in election campaigns. A former employee has also alleged that the firm was able to use a personality quiz placed on Facebook in 2014 to obtain data about both the 270,000 people who took the place and another 50 million belonging to their friend networks. Cambridge Analytica denies any wrongdoing.
Legislatures and regulators across the world are asking whether any laws relating to the use of personal data have been broken. It is reported Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, is to be summoned to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee of the US Congress. In the UK, the Information Commissioner (IC) is taking action. It was reported on 19 March that the IC is to apply to court for a warrant to search the firm's London offices. The BBC News website noted on 20 March that Labour's shadow digital economy minister commented that the IC's powers do not allow her to apply for a search warrant quickly and quietly.
It has to be said that paragraph 2 of schedule 9 of the Data Protection Act 1998 provides that a judge (or sheriff in Scotland) shall not in normal circumstances issue such a warrant to the IC without the occupier of the premises to which it relates having first had (a) 7 days written notice from the IC that access is demanded, and (b) the opportunity to address the court on the whether the warrant should be issued. However, paragraph 2(2) of schedule 9 allows the court to disregard these requirements, if satisfied that the case is one of urgency or if compliance with them would defeat the object of entry.
Doubtless paragraph 2(2) does not apply with respect to the warrant sought to search Cambridge Analytica's premises. A recent example of a court being satisfied in terms of paragraph 2(2) occurred on Friday, 16 March 2018 at Dumbarton Sheriff Court. On that occasion we acted for the IC and were able to persuade the sheriff to grant our client a search warrant of which the occupier of the premises in question had no advance notice. Our client's investigations indicated that calls were being made from there in breach of the Privacy and Electronics Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003, with technology being used to create the impression that the calls were being made from Poland instead. With this evidence of deception, the view was reached that giving the occupiers forewarning of the client's wish to search their premises would defeat the object of entry. This warrant has been executed.