‘Brexitgate’ update May 2018

Leave.EU broke electoral law

The big news since my last update on the Brexitgate scandal is that one of the reports from the Electoral Commission about illegal activity by the Leave campaign is now in, and we expect criminal investigations to follow.

The headline findings are that Leave.EU, headed by Nigel Farage and Arron Banks, spent at least £77,000 more than its legal limit – the actually figure may be much higher – and did not report its spending accurately. The company has been fined £70,000 and its Chief Executive Liz Bilney has been reported to the Metropolitan Police, a clear indication that the Electoral Commission believe she is guilty of criminal activity.

The BBC covered the release of this report in a frankly scandalous fashion, allowing Banks to challenge the integrity and independence of the very body that is set up to defend democratic standards and the rule of law. I have written to the Director-General of the BBC to formally complain about this.

We still awaiting the report of the Electoral Commission’s investigation into the official Leave campaign Vote Leave, fronted by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, as well as investigations into breaches of data privacy laws by the Information Commissioner.

What is going on with Facebook?

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has now been forced to testify in front of both houses of Congress and before the European Parliament. More than 87 million Facebook users are now known to have been affected by the Cambridge Analytica data breach, including more than 1 million UK users. In spite of his near-tearful and oft-repeated apologies a key question remains unanswered: when did Zuckerberg know about the data breach? It appears that Facebook knew our data was compromised as early as December 2015, so it is clear that Facebook’s first response to the theft of our data was to cover this up.

In spite of the disappointing format and the outrageous grandstanding by EU politicians, some pertinent questions were raised during Zuckerberg’s question session in the European Parliament on 22nd May.

These include:

  • Will Facebook release all politically focused adverts included those sent during the EU referendum campaign?
  • Will he release information about who received them and who funded the adverts?
  • Will Zuckerberg develop a means of using Facebook that allows the user to opt out of all advertising?
  • When did Zuckerberg first know about the data breach?
  • Will he cooperate with European competition authorities to allow them to examine whether his company is acting as a monopoly?

He has promised written answers and we will be holding him to that.

What happened to the electoral manipulators?

On 17th March Facebook suspended the account of Cambridge Analytica and its parent company SCL Elections. Then in early May they went into liquidation. It appears that their assets – including data assets – were then transferred to a pre-existing alternative company Emerdata, leading many to suggest that the wind-up was an excuse to avoid investigation and legal liability. The company shares many of the same directors.

On 7 April Facebook finally acted against AIQ, suspending its account. AIQ is the small Canadian subsidiary of SCL Elections that, according to whistleblower Chris Wylie, received nearly half the entire spending of the Leave campaign. As yet, we have no idea what they did in return for this money but we can assume it was to send targeted messages to voters profiled using data acquired from Facebook.  AIQ have refused to cooperate with the investigation by the Information Commissioner; their legal base outside UK jurisdiction may well be the reason they were contracted to do this work.

During a hearing at the Canadian Parliament’s ethics committee with AggregateIQ’s CEO Zackary Massingham and COO Jeff Silvester, Charlie Angus MP spoke for many when he said:

‘We have a Canadian company that’s at the heart of the most seismic election campaign in recent European history that may have been turned upside down because of illegalities. . . I don’t believe these operators should be involved in any election anywhere in the world.’