U.K. Privacy Office Hits Roadblocks in Brexit Political Data Analytics Investigation


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The U.K. privacy office has been investigating whether there was improper use of personal information in data analytics during the Brexit referendum process. But some companies and organizations haven’t been fully cooperating with the Information Commissioner’s Office, the regulator said.

Seeking comprehensive answers, the ICO has been forced to use legal powers, including sending out four "information notices" requiring the recipients to comply, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said in an official ICO blog. The U.K. Independence Party that supported Brexit has appealed the information notice to the independent Information Rights Tribunal.

Denham announced the investigation in May after an ICO review of evidence collected in an informal assessment of the data protection risks in data analytics that started in March.

The ICO is engaged in a “complex and far-reaching investigation” of how more than 30 organizations, such as political parties, campaigns, data analytics companies, and social media platforms used data. The investigation focuses on the algorithms used in elections, data analysis, data matching, and profiling based on personal information.

The way that political campaigns use data isn’t understood by citizens and they aren’t aware such practices must comply with the U.K. Data Protection Act’s requirement that organizations publish data fairly and transparently, Denham said.

“This investigation is a high priority for my office,” Denham said. “We’re asking whether there was a legal basis to use this information. Did people have a way of exercising their privacy rights?”

The investigation will let U.K. citizens know whether data is used for profiling when campaigns micro-target voters, and whether there are some areas where data analytics and social media should be off limits in elections, Denham said.

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