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Cambridge Analytica scandal may trigger changes to electoral laws

November 8, 2018 by

The Cambridge Analytica scandal may trigger changes to electoral laws at least if legislators follow the suggestions of the European Parliament. The European Parliament suggests that electoral laws need to be adapted to reflect the data processing and analytics capabilities and their potential for manipulating the political discourse. Deceptive information about political issues and candidates and political ad warfare continue to thrive on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. Britain’s Information Commissioner has been investigating the use of data analytics to influence politics after consultancy Cambridge Analytica obtained the personal data of 87 million Facebook users from a researcher.

In a formal resolution that the EU Parliament adopted on 25 October 2018, the EU Parliament suggests that profiling for political and electoral purposes (including based on online behaviour and socioeconomic or demographic factors) should be prohibited all together (Facebook users’ data by Cambridge Analytica and the impact on data protection (2018/2855(RSP).) 

To that effect, the European Parliament suggests much more greater algorithmic accountability and transparency with regards to data processing and analytics by private and public sectors.

The EP’s other suggestions include:

  • any form of political advertising should include easily accessible and understandable information on the publishing organisation and who is legally responsible for spending so that it is clear who sponsored campaigns;
  • the requirement to verify the identity, location and sponsor of political advertisements to increase transparency and contribute to the fight against election meddling by foreign actors;
  • that political and electoral advertising should not be done on the basis of individual user profiles;
  • electoral laws need to be updated to reflect the new digital reality;
  • member states should investigate alleged misuse of online political spaces by foreign forces;
  • national supervisory authorities should be funded to build up technical expert knowledge equivalent to that of the organisations that they scrutinise; and
  • competition rules should be upgraded to look into the model of social media platforms and their potential monopoly.

In relation to Facebook, the EU Parliament commented that Facebook had breached the trust of EU citizens and EU law, but also noted that Facebook has made changes to its privacy policies and processes. It also reiterated its expectation that all online platforms comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the e-Privacy Directive (2002/58/EC) to help users understand how their personal data is used in the targeted advertising and to ensure that effective controls are available.

The European Parliament suggested that Facebook submits to an audit by ENISA and the European Data Protection Board. It also called on national supervisory authorities to undertake a thorough investigation into Facebook and its practices.

British privacy watchdog fined Facebook Irland for its involvement in the Cambridge Analytica which compromised the personal data of 89 million Facebook users world wide. The EU is also threatening to suspend the US-EU Privacy shield. Facebook, a signatory to the Privacy Shield, has confirmed that the personal data of up to 2.7 million EU citizens were among those unlawfully used by the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.