A leading rights group has asked the UK’s data protection regulator to urgently investigate the role of a shadowy political consultancy over claims that helped the Conservative Party to general election victory in 2019.
CT Group is a global lobbying and consulting firm founded by long-time Tory collaborator Lynton Crosby. Its CT Partners Limited business accounted for nearly 40% of the Conservative Party’s £4.5m spend on “Market Research/Canvassing” at the last election, way more than any other business, according to Privacy International.
However, the rights group said it has been consistently stonewalled by the firm after trying to find out exactly what services it offered in the run-up to the general election.
Regulator the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is conducting an ongoing investigation into the use of personal information and data analytics for political purposes. It was sparked by revelations over the work of Cambridge Analytica, which is said to have used data harvested illegally from Facebook users and their friends to target voters in the 2016 US Presidential election.
The hiring of companies like Cambridge Analytica and CT Partners is increasingly common in modern politics, and in itself is perfectly legal.
However, there are growing concerns over how voters’ personal data is used to profile them in political campaigns, especially in opaque online “micro-targeting,” which allows parties to say different things to different people in the hope of securing their vote.
COVID-19 has accelerated the trend for this kind of virtual campaigning, which relies on the processing of vast volumes of personal data on individuals who often have no idea they’re being profiled in this way, noted Privacy International.
The non-profit’s policy director, Lucy Purdon, argued that this “invisible processing” of personal data is at the heart of its concerns about CT Partners, and could have major GDPR compliance implications.
“Most people will have no direct relationship with these companies, and are mostly unaware they are being profiled for political purposes,” she said. “It is vital that the democratic process is not undermined by these secret and opaque methods. Voters deserve better.”