Ole Miss: No, we don’t have Facebook data on British citizens
JACKSON, Miss. — A case involving the British data firm Cambridge Analytica is before a county judge in the U.S. state of Mississippi, where representatives of a British insurance company and the University of Mississippi have testified under oath that no private data of British citizens was ever transferred to the American university.
Britain’s Fair Vote Project continues to seek proof that private data ended up in Mississippi, despite their repeated denials. The hearing continues Wednesday.
Eldon Insurance Services Ltd. and its lawyers argue the lawsuit’s aim is to make the insurance seller appear guilty even though there’s no evidence of wrongdoing. They want Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens to dismiss the suit as having no place in the Mississippi courts.
“This is a lawsuit between British people and it’s about the alleged use of British people’s personal data,” lawyer Sterling Kidd argued Tuesday in Jackson. “This court does not have personal jurisdiction.”
The Mississippi action stems from April testimony before the British Parliament by Brittany Kaiser, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica. Kaiser told Parliament she believes that leaders of the 2016 Brexit campaign to have the United Kingdom leave the European Union misused private data from Eldon Insurance and the U.K. Independence Party. She said Eldon owner Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore told multiple people they were going to use her proposals and create “their own Cambridge Analytica” at the University of Mississippi.
Cambridge Analytica said it did no paid or unpaid work on the Brexit campaign. It also denies using Facebook data to support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Both Banks and Wigmore, until recently an Eldon director, were prominent proponents of the successful 2016 Brexit referendum on Britain leaving the European Union. John Banks, whom Kidd identified as Arron Banks’ brother and Eldon’s general counsel, attended Tuesday and consulted with Kidd during the hearing.
The entity in question is an Eldon subsidiary, Big Data Dolphins Ltd., which the company says aims to use data for the legitimate purpose of improving insurance sales.
Dorsey Carson, arguing on behalf of Fair Vote Project and its leader Kyle Taylor, said plenty of evidence supports the lawsuit being heard in Mississippi, including a lease that Eldon signed with the university in February. The organization says any transfer of data to the United States would have broken British law, and wants to prove that Cambridge Analytica, Banks and Wigmore acted illegally to manipulate the outcome of the Brexit referendum.
“The question has to be asked: Why do they not want a court order prohibiting them from destroying evidence using personal data that neither Mr. Kyle Taylor or anyone else gave them permission to use?” Carson told the judge.
It was Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Phil Bryant who ultimately connected Eldon with the university after cultivating relationships with Banks, pro-Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage and others.
The lease, filed publicly for the first time Tuesday, shows the state economic development agency controlled by Bryant agreed to give Eldon and the university $100,000 to help complete office space for Big Data Dolphins.
Josh Gladden, the university’s vice chancellor for research, testified that the office space has never been finished or occupied, and that Big Data Dolphins has no access to university computer servers and has stored nothing at the university. He said university researchers never agreed what specific projects they would assist Eldon with, and testified that Eldon hasn’t asked the university to destroy evidence.
“The result of this investigation is, to our satisfaction, that there’s been no data transfer between any of the companies and the University of Mississippi,” Gladden said.
Victoria Sena, who manages the Big Data Dolphins project, testified she never discussed server access.
“I haven’t transferred data,” Sena testified. “I don’t have access to data. There is no way to access it. There is no one to transfer it to.”
Sena also said Eldon had no access to any improper trove of Facebook data, instead using input only from its own Facebook page. She said Eldon never “scraped” Facebook profiles for data, saying that’s illegal in the United Kingdom and would result in the company being banned from Facebook. She testified that Big Data Dolphins was incorporated after the Brexit vote and Trump’s election. She said that while Banks may have been involved in the Brexit campaign, she denied that Eldon was involved.