08:36, March 22 132 0 theguardian.com

2018-03-22 08:36:04
Cambridge Analytica: search of London HQ delayed by wait for warrant

The information commissioner will have to wait until at least Friday to enter the offices of Cambridge Analytica after a high court judge adjourned the hearing into her application for a warrant.

The commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, announced on Monday night that she planned to request an urgent warrant to enter the company’s London offices, after it was revealed that it had been given information from 50m Facebook profiles without users’ permission.

According to a whistleblower, Cambridge Analytica used the data to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements.

Denham told Channel 4 News that the company had failed to comply with her request for information, and that she wanted to access files and servers as part of an ongoing investigation into the use of personal data in political campaigns.

A team of investigators who had already been sent into the building by Facebook were stood down, after the commissioner raised concerns that they could compromise her investigation.

The office of the information commissioner (ICO) began the application process on Tuesday, but on Thursday it disclosed that it still did not have a warrant. In a statement on its website, it said: “A high court judge has adjourned the ICO’s application for a warrant relating to Cambridge Analytica until Friday.

“The ICO will be in court to continue to pursue the warrant to obtain access to data and information to take forward our investigation.”

It refused to give any more information about the delay.

On Tuesday, crates were seen being removed from the central London office that Cambridge Analytica shares with other tenants. No one on the scene would comment on the origin of the crates, and the ICO said it was not involved in their removal.

At the same time, Cambridge Analytica said it had offered to let the ICO attend its office voluntarily, “subject to our agreeing the scope of the inspection”.

The culture secretary, Matt Hancock, has hinted that the government will consider further strengthening the information commission’s powers to investigate the misuse of personal data.

Hancock was responding to a Commons question from Labour’s Liam Byrne, who said it was “ludicrous that it has taken so long for her to get a search warrant for Cambridge Analytica’s officers, and it is ludicrous that people frustrating her investigations do not face jail for that frustration”.

Hancock began by criticising Byrne for his “abrasive tone” and said “the data protection bill currently before parliament is all about strengthening this enforcement”. But he added: “If following evidence from this investigation we need to further strengthen those powers, then I am willing to consider that.”

He also repeated previous responses by the government that there were no current contracts between government and the Cambridge Analytica group.

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