Cambridge Analytica: Congress denies whistleblower claim, BJP seeks apology

Christopher Wylie
A Cambridge Analytica former employee-turned-whistleblower Christopher Wylie said on Tuesday that the company had worked extensively in India and believed it was employed by the Congress party. The United Kingdom (UK) parliamentary committee started an investigation on the issue of fake news and questioned Wylie regarding the issue. 

Christopher Wylie deposed before the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) in London amid an escalating row around alleged Facebook data breaches linked with the controversial UK-based company, which has also been linked with alleged attempts to influence elections in India.

"They (Cambridge Analytica) worked extensively in India. They have an office in India," Wylie said. He offered to provide the committee "documentation" on India, which was welcomed by Farrelly, who said India was a country that did not need any added "tensions".

"When you look at Facebook's biggest market, India is the top in terms of numbers of users. Obviously, that's a country, which is rife with political discord and opportunities for destabilisation," said Labour MP Paul Farrelly, member of the parliamentary committee.

At the start of Tuesday's session, it emerged that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has declined to appear before the committee amid an ongoing row over data breaches linked to the social media company.

A summons letter had been sent to Zuckerberg by Damian Collins, the chair of DCMS. In a response to Collins, Facebook's head of public policy, Rebecca Stimson, said the company would be putting forward its Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer or its Chief Product Officer Chris Cox.

In an undercover report last week, Cambridge Analytica executives had been caught boasting that they, along with parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories, had worked in more than 200 elections around the world, including India, Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic and Argentina.

Here are the top 10 developments in the Cambridge Analytica-Indian elections row:

1. Congress denies whistleblower's claims: Congress has had no truck with Cambridge Analytica
, party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala asserted today and accused Ravi Shankar Prasad of "lying" to divert the agenda after he cited a whistleblower's deposition to claim that the controversial data firm had worked for the opposition party.

Surjewala used the statement of an Indian citizen, who was a partner in Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI), the Indian arm of Cambridge Analytica, that the controversial firm was hired by an NRI using undisclosed funds to bring down the Congress government, and asked whether Prasad believed in a foreign citizen more than an Indian.

He also dared the Prasad to answer questions posed at him and whether he would lodge a case against Facebook, OBI and Cambridge Analytica for the truth to come out.
2. Congress Cambridge Analytica’s client?: 28-year-old Christopher Wylie said that Cambridge Analytica had done several regional projects in India and he “believes that Congress was their client.”

“I know that they have done all kinds of projects. I don't remember a national project but I know regionally. India's so big that one state can be as big as Britain. But they do have offices there, they do have staff there," Wylie said, according to news agency PTI.

3. BJP demands Congress’ apology: BJP on Tuesday cited the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower's deposition to claim that the controversial data firm had worked for the Congress and demanded an apology from its president Rahul Gandhi, saying he stood "exposed".

"The whistleblower has publicly confirmed that the Congress was indeed their client. Rahul Gandhi had been trying to divert attention. Today, he stands exposed. The Congress and Rahul Gandhi must apologise to the nation," Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

This vindicates what the BJP had been saying from day one, he said.

"Cambridge Analytica is in the dock for data theft and trying to manipulate voters using unlawful means. Congress party needs to apologise to the nation for data theft and trying to manipulate voters. Rahul Gandhi needs to apologise to the nation for trying to subvert India's election process using the Brahmastra of Cambridge Analytica," he said.

4. Govt issued notice to Cambridge Analytica: The government had on Friday issued a notice to UK-based Cambridge Analytica, asking it to give a list of clients and the source of data it had collected.'

The IT Ministry has asked the firm to respond by March 31 on six questions, including how the company had collected user data, whether consent was taken from the individuals, and how the data was used.

5. Wylie’s predecessor worked in India: Wylie also said that his predecessor, Dan Muresan, Head of Elections at SCL Group, had also been working in India before he died in Kenya under mysterious circumstances. He claimed to have heard stories that Muresan, a Romanian national, may have been poisoned in a hotel room while in the African country.

6. Muresan paid by Indian billionaire: Paul-Olivier Dehaye, co-founder of PersonalData.IO, a service that helps individuals regain control over their personal data, also giving evidence to the committee, added that he had heard reports that Muresan was being paid by an Indian billionaire who wanted Congress to lose elections.

"So he was pretending to work for one party but actually paid underhand by someone else," said Dehaye. He added that it would be for Indian and Kenyan journalists to get together to investigate the matter further.

7. Congress trying diversionary tactics: BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra had alleged that the Congress was rattled by the Cambridge Analytica "expose" and was trying everything to divert attention and stop Prime Minister Modi from communicating with others. He had said this after Rahul had alleged on Sunday that Narendra Modi app was leaking data to US companies.

 
Earlier, the BJP had said that Cambridge Analytica's "footprints" were visible in the Opposition party's campaign in Gujarat. Further, the BJP had suggested that Cambridge Analytica had a role in the Congress chief's use of the term "Gabbar Singh Tax".

Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had also suggested that the firm had a role in Gandhi's social media campaign and the Congress' "poisonous" electioneering in Gujarat.

Cambridge Analytica behind Rahul Gandhi's 'Gabbar Singh Tax' jibe:Stepped up its attack on Rahul Gandhi and the Congress, BJP had said that Cambridge Analytica's "footprints" were visible in the Opposition party's campaign in Gujarat. Further, the BJP suggested that Cambridge Analytica had a role in the Congress chief's use of the term "Gabbar Singh Tax".

ALSO READ: Cambridge Analytica behind Rahul's 'Gabbar Singh Tax'? Top 10 developments

Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also suggested that the firm had a role in Gandhi's social media campaign and the Congress' "poisonous" electioneering in Gujarat.

8. Facebook’s take on this: As the controversy continues to escalate, Zuckerberg took out full-page advertisements in several UK and US Sunday newspapers to apologise. "This was a breach of trust, and I am sorry," the back-page ads said.

Rebecca Stimson, Facebook's head of public policy, said: "Facebook fully recognises the level of public and Parliamentary interest in these issues and support your belief that these issues must be addressed at the most senior levels of the company by those in an authoritative position to answer your questions.”

"As such Mr Zuckerberg has personally asked one of his deputies to make themselves available to give evidence in person to the Committee," she said, adding that both men likely to step in the report directly to Zuckerberg and are among the longest-serving senior representatives in Facebook's 15-year history.

9: Probe agency seeks evidence from Zuckerberg: DCMS, which is currently hearing oral evidence as part of its inquiry, is likely to hear from one of the Facebook executives after the Parliament's Easter recess, which ends on April 16.

"We will seek to clarify from Facebook whether he (Zuckerberg) is available to give evidence or not because that wasn't clear from our correspondence. If he is available to give evidence then we would be happy to do that either in person or by video link if that would be more convenient for him," Collins said in a statement.

10. Cambridge Analytica has details of 50 million Facebook users: Wylie has accused his former employer, Cambridge Analytica, of gathering the details of 50 million users on Facebook through a personality quiz in 2014. He alleges that because 270,000 people took the quiz, the data of some 50 million users, mainly in the US, was harvested without their explicit consent via their friend networks.

Wylie claims the data was sold to Cambridge Analytica, which then used it to psychologically profile people and deliver material in favour of Donald Trump during the 2016 US presidential elections. He also criticised Cambridge Analytica for running campaigns in "struggling democracies", which he called "an example of what modern-day colonialism looks like".

"You have a wealthy company from a developed nation going into an economy or democracy that's still struggling to get its feet on the ground and taking advantage of that to profit from that," he told MPs.

Cambridge Analytica denies any of the data acquired was used as part of the services it provided to the Trump campaign.