Government forced to defend links with scandal-hit political data firm

Posted On: 
26th March 2018

The Government has come under pressure to explain decade-old links with scandal-hit data firm SCL Elections, which later became Cambridge Analytica.

British firm Cambridge Analytica has been accused of illegally harvesting data to influence elections
Credit: 
PA

The company was handed contracts by the Foreign Office in 2008 and received special accreditation from the Ministry of Defence, giving it access to confidential government information.

It later boasted to potential clients that it could be reached through “any British High Commission or Embassy”.

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Cambridge Analytica - which is credited with helping Donald Trump become president - has been widely criticised in the UK after it was accused of illegally harvesting data from 50 million Facebook profiles.

However, according to a brochure produced by parent company SCL Elections, and seen by the BBC, it claimed back in 2014 to have interfered in votes around the world in nefarious ways.

In the publication it says it organised rallies in Nigeria to weaken support for the opposition in 2007, for example.

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show, Conservative former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said the allegations were "absolutely appalling" and ran “totally counter to the policy of the British government in promoting free and fair elections in the developing world".

He added that it was "perfectly clear that the British government should have nothing to do with it".

The MoD said the firm had not had special accreditation since 2013.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “It is not now nor ever has been the case that enquiries for SCL ‘can be directed through any British High Commission or Embassy’.

"Our understanding is that, at the time of the signing of the contract for project work in 2008/9, the FCO was not aware of SCL's reported activity during the 2006 Latvian election or 2007 Nigerian election."

Acting CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Dr Alexander Tayler, said in a statement: “We take the disturbing recent allegations of unethical practices in our non-US political business very seriously.

“The board has launched a full and independent investigation into SCL Elections’ past practices, and its findings will be made available in due course.”