Status of investigation into the digital marketing co-ordination of Vote Leave, Mr Grimes and Aggregate IQ

Electoral Commission did not have the information requested.

Dear Electoral Commission,

VOTE LEAVE: CAMPAIGN SPENDING
In respect of your investigation into whether Vote Leave campaign criminally exceeded its campaign spending limits, the critical test is whether its campaign to leave was a "Joint" one with Mr Grimes and Aggregate IQ. This question will obviously be decided by the degree of their co-ordination in execution of the component parts of the Vote Leave campaign.

A central component of the Vote Leave campaign was digital marketing, by means of which it collected and stored personal and behavioural information, which it subsequently used to subtly communicate with individuals via social media in order to manipulate their point of view.

In this article in The Drum:
http://www.thedrum.com/news/2017/06/13/w...
it is reported that campaign director for Vote Leave Dominic Cummings publicly declared that his campaign carried out extensive data mining and social media activity and research, and that it dumped its entire budget in the last 10 days of the campaign.

Cross-referencing this with the following article:
http://www.thedrum.com/news/2016/08/03/o...
which states that Mr Grimes and Aggregate IQ managed the social media advertising and their entire activity was in the last few days of the campaign, Mr Cummings' inadvertent boast is that the £625,000 potentially criminal campaign budget was indeed part of a co-ordinated campaign.

The clearest test of "jointness" there is, is whether this £625,000 extension to Vote Leave's social media marketing campaign was conducted with access to the targeting data, personal data, data mining, messaging and campaign insight, previously funded and developed by the activities of Vote Leave itself.

In its data policy the Vote Leave campaign states:
Your personal data may be shared within the campaign (i.e. between local, regional and national branches of the campaign), and with organisations and partners we have a strategic relationship with as part of the campaign, or that perform work for our campaign to provide services on your behalf. This is normal practice for political campaigns in the UK.

As such, if the Vote Leave campaign shared digital marketing information with Aggregate IQ and/or Mr Grimes, or any other party, it has, by the constraints of its own privacy policy, declared Mr Grimes and/or Aggregate IQ to be "within the campaign", an organisation with which it has a "strategic relationship with as part of the campaign", or that the party "performs work for our campaign".

The importance of this crystal clear indication of "jointness of campaign activity" should be obvious to your lawyers currently defending the application underway by the Good Law Project, for a Judicial Review of the decision not to investigate the campaign.

Give the strategic importance of digital and social media marketing to the leave campaign, no reasonable, competent and thorough assessment of the degree of co-ordination in the execution of the Vote Leave campaign by Vote Leave, Mr Grimes and Aggregate IQ can be undertaken in the absence of a full and thorough understanding of personal data which their campaigns shared.

The Commission, in conjunction with the ICO, must be seen to competently rise to the challenges of the digital age rather than toothlessly fiddle while the electorate is illegally manipulated, as we have seen in elections elsewhere, by unscrupulous, wealthy and powerful individuals and organisations potentially wishing to preserve their tax havens from EU legislation, and other matters in clear conflict with the public interest, at massive cost to the UK electorate.

It is natural that public authorities require time to adjust to such a rapidly changing digital landscape and the reasonable assumption, since this is the first UK election likely affected by such issues, must be, that the essential digital data sharing component of Electoral Commission's investigation of possible electoral fraud by the Vote Leave campaign, has been temporarily overlooked.

Therefore, as a matter of a FOI request, can you please confirm:
A) That the Commission has reached a full and thorough understanding of the degree to which personal and other marketing data was shared between the parties involved (both to and from Vote Leave).
B) That the Commission's understanding is based upon data obtained directly from Facebook and other digital marketing platforms, rather than relying entirely upon the parties potentially involved in lucrative criminal activity.
C) (And as a matter of public interest CLEARLY OVERRIDING any rights to confidentiality of the parties concerned), disclose the Commission's detailed, current and future findings regarding the extent and nature of data sharing, both within and outside the EU, by the parties concerned.
D) If a full understanding of the above has not already been attained, that the investigation has now been extended to include it, and the deadline by which, in conjunction with the ICO, that Facebook and other marketing platforms have been required to supply aforementioned data.

VOTE LEAVE: DATA PROTECTION IRREGULARITIES
I draw your attention to the following related matter which will also be taken up with the ICO however is a matter for Electoral Commission investigation:

Vote Leave's data processing policy declares "If you use the App it will run on your device and search your contacts for friends that may be interested in joining the Vote Leave campaign, the App will highlight those of your contacts you might like to phone, SMS or email as potential supporters....

This was adjusted later to state "At no time will your contact lists be sent to Vote Leave. [updated as of 30 May 2016]"

However in Dr Alan Mullen's analysis of the digital battle (currently available here
http://www.referendumanalysis.eu/eu-refe... )

he states: "the Leave campaign developed an interactive smartphone app that was downloaded by tens of thousands of people. Encouraging subscribers to sign up their friends and family and ASKING PERMISSION FOR VOTE LEAVE TO BE ABLE TO ACCESS THEIR SMARTPHONE CONTACTS, this app provided a further means of harvesting valuable data about potential Brexit supporters and disseminating key campaign messages."

The App was given permission to access individuals' smartphone contacts, yet for vote leave to use such personal data without the permission of the contacts themselves, such activity would be illegal under UK Data Protection Law. This question is therefore paramount from a Data Protection point of view; whether, prior to the date at which Vote Leave edited its (potentially illegal) privacy policy to make its activities appear lawful, the app had already gathered contact details of friends for marketing purposes, without the permission of those friends.

It is therefore imperative for the maintenance of public trust in the due process of law and in fairness of UK democracy that the Commission and the ICO, with Facebook's direct co-operation (and that of any other digital marketing platforms used), cross-references the marketing contact data which Vote Leave, Mr Grimes and Aggregate IQ uploaded to Facebook's advertising platform during the campaign period in order to assess the degree to which (if at all), the campaign a) criminally broke campaign spending limits by diverting surplus funds to essentially a joint campaign (i.e. one with which it shared its marketing data), b) criminally disseminated personal information to 3rd party organisations (including organisations outside of the EU) without those individuals' consent, and c) collected and disseminated third party contact data harvested from supporters' phones for marketing purposes, without the permission to process said data, from the individuals themselves.

Yours faithfully,

Robert Frost

FOI, Electoral Commission

Dear Robert Frost,
 
Our Ref: FOI 174/17
 
Thank you for your request under the Freedom of Information Act dated 12
November 2017, received by the Commission on 13 November 2017, concerning:
 
as a matter of a FOI request, can you please confirm:
A) That the Commission has reached a full and thorough understanding of
the degree to which personal and other marketing data was shared between
the parties involved (both to and from Vote Leave).
 
B) That the Commission's understanding is based upon data obtained
directly from Facebook and other digital marketing platforms, rather than
relying entirely upon the parties potentially involved in lucrative
criminal activity.
 
C) (And as a matter of public interest CLEARLY OVERRIDING any rights to
confidentiality of the parties concerned), disclose the Commission's
detailed, current and future findings regarding the extent and nature of
data sharing,
both within and outside the EU, by the parties concerned.
 
D) If a full understanding of the above has not already been attained,
that the investigation has now been extended to include it, and the
deadline by which, in conjunction with the ICO, that Facebook and other
marketing platforms
have been required to supply aforementioned data
 
The Commission aims to respond to requests for information promptly and
within the statutory timeframe of twenty working days.
 
You may expect to receive a reply sent from the Commission by Monday 11
December 2017.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Ashley
 
Ashley Lardner
Information, Knowledge and Systems Manager
The Electoral Commission
3 Bunhill Row
London EC1Y 8YZ
[1][Electoral Commission request email]
[2]electoralcommission.org.uk
[3]yourvotematters.co.uk
 
[4]Twitter | [5]Facebook | [6]Blog
 
 
 
 

References

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FOI, Electoral Commission

Dear Robert Frost,
 
Our Ref: FOI 174/17
 
Thank you for your email to the Electoral Commission dated 13 November
2017.
 
The Commission aims to respond to requests for information promptly and
has done so within the statutory timeframe of twenty working days.
 
Your request is in bold below followed by our response.
 
Therefore, as a matter of a FOI request, can you please confirm:
A) That the Commission has reached a full and thorough understanding of
the degree to which personal and othermarketing data was shared between
the parties involved (both to and from Vote Leave).
 
B) That the Commission's understanding is based upon data obtained
directly from Facebook and other digital marketing platforms, rather than
relying entirely upon the parties potentially involved in lucrative
criminal activity.
 
C) (And as a matter of public interest CLEARLY OVERRIDING any rights to
confidentiality of the parties concerned), disclose the Commission's
detailed, current and future findings regarding the extent and nature of
data sharing,
both within and outside the EU, by the parties concerned.
 
D) If a full understanding of the above has not already been attained,
that the investigation has now been extended to include it, and the
deadline by which, in conjunction with the ICO, that Facebook and other
marketing platforms
have been required to supply aforementioned data.
 
Our response is as follows:
 
We do not hold the information you have requested.
 
The Electoral Commission is the regulator for political campaign finance
in UK elections and referendums. We regulate the rules set out in the
Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA). We do not
regulate rules relating to data handling or sharing by referendum
campaigners or others. You may wish to contact the Information
Commissioner’s Office in that respect.
 
After the June 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU referendum
(the EU referendum) all registered campaigners, including Vote Leave, were
required to deliver a financial return that included a statement of all
campaign payments made. Consequently this includes any spending on
campaigning that involved the use of personal or marketing data. We
publish all this information on our website.
 
As you may be aware, earlier this month the Commission opened an
investigation in respect of Vote Leave, Mr Darren Grimes and Veterans for
Britain, three registered campaigners in the EU referendum. You can read
the media statement, which sets out the matters under investigation, here:
 
[1]https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/i...
 
I trust that this information satisfies your request. The Commission
strives to be an open, transparent authority, but in some circumstances we
cannot responsibly release requested information, and we ask for your
understanding in this regard.
If you are not satisfied with this response, please note that the
Commission operates a review procedure, details of which can be found on
the Commission website at:
[2]http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/ab...
Please also note that if you have exhausted all internal Commission review
procedures and you are still not satisfied you have the right to appeal to
the Information Commissioner. Details of this procedure can be found on
the ICO website: [3]https://ico.org.uk/
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Humayra Siddika
Information Management Adviser
The Electoral Commission
3 Bunhill Row
London EC1Y 8YZ
[4]electoralcommission.org.uk
[5]yourvotematters.co.uk
 
[6]Twitter | [7]Facebook | [8]Blog
 
 

References

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