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Claims of data use by Facebook ‘go well beyond UK borders’

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GUERNSEY’S data protection commissioner has expressed concern about the ‘weaponisation’ of personal data amid an international storm around the use of Facebook.

Alexander Nix, chief executive of Cambridge Analytica. (Picture by PA/PA Wire)

Emma Martins spoke out after it was revealed that one company, Cambridge Analytica, has boasted about using personal information to target voters during elections.

Facebook banned it from using its platform on Friday, days before a whistle blower claimed the company had harvested and stored data about more than 50 million Facebook users without their permission.

The majority of those were in the US, but the UK’s Information Commissioner has issued a warrant to search the company’s London offices after it failed to respond to a previous request about the possible illegal use of data.

The commissioner’s office has also asked Facebook to stand down after the social media giant announced an independent audit of its relationship with Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica hase denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

‘Whilst at this point the investigations are being undertaken by the UK data protection regulator (ICO), its impact goes well beyond UK borders,’ said Mrs Martins.

‘We have heard much recently about the so-called “weaponisation of data” and this case highlights the extraordinary power that is placed in the hands of those who have access to and control of personal data about us.’

While it was impossible to say what the outcome of investigations into the case would be, Ms Martins said it illustrated the need for ‘robust’ legal frameworks that provide strong rights for individuals and empowered independent regulators to step in when things went wrong.

New data protection laws are coming into force in response to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into effect this May.

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‘It should give us all pause for thought and encourage us to reflect on the importance of getting this legislation right for the Bailiwick and setting the bar high for companies based here.

‘It also reminds us all of the importance of engaging seriously with the question of who has our data and what they are doing with it.’

Those working in data protection were appalled by the allegations, but not surprised.

‘I think we all have a sense that this is just the beginning of the exposure of such activity,’ she said.

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‘Public outcry has the potential to provoke real change and we should not underestimate the impact we can all have.

‘There is a lot of discussion at this time around the new data protection legislation. This is a new era that requires companies to step up to their new responsibilities, but let’s not lose sight of why the legislation matters for us all,’ added Mrs Martins.

Advocate Elaine Gray, a Guernsey-based partner at international law firm Carey Olsen, said that companies had to ‘walk the walk as well as talk the talk’ when it came to data protection.

‘This is precisely one of the reasons that led to the GDPR being introduced because so much personal data could be used or abused.

‘If there are cases of breaches, then those people will have been very fortunate that it’s before GDPR comes into force in May because the fines are much higher,’ she added.

Will Green

By Will Green
Business Editor

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