Cambridge Analytica owner fined £15k for ignoring data access request

The company falsely believed that US citizens were blocked from requesting copies of data under UK laws

Cambridge Analytica's parent company SCL Elections has been fined 15,000 by the Information Commissioner's Office for failing to a data access request from a US citizen.

The company was said to have been in breach of the Data Protection Act after it ignored an enforcement notice issued by the authority, which it has since pleaded guilty to, according to the Guardian.

US citizen David Carroll first requested copies of data held on him from the company back in 2017, however, SCL Elections provided him with only basic information, including predictions of his political stance and other personal data. When he requested further information, including any data that was used to create the predictions, SCL ignored this request.

Carroll submitted a complaint to the ICO, which then agreed with his case and demanded the company comply with the request in May 2018. However, the company challenged that order, maintaining that because Carroll was not a UK citizen he had no more right to request access to data "than a member of the Taliban sitting in a cave in Afghanistan".

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However, it appears SCL fundamentally misunderstood the law as, because it is a UK-based company, SCL is legally obligated to operate under the terms of the then Data Protection Act (now GDPR), and as such those protections apply to all data it holds.

As well as fining the organisation, the ICO also said SCL Elections must respond to the request and provide the full records as requested by Carroll.

SCL Elections went into administration following Cambridge Analytica's Facebook scandal in May last year, a day before the enforcement notice was issued, however as the request was made prior to that, the company must still honour its obligations.

"This prosecution, the first against Cambridge Analytica, is a warning that there are consequences for ignoring the law," said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. "Wherever you live in the world, if your data is being processed by a UK company, UK data protection laws apply."

"Organisations that handle personal data must respect people's legal privacy rights. Where that does not happen and companies ignore ICO enforcement notices, we will take action."

  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
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