When it came to questions as to whether Arron Banks, the so-called “Man who bankrolled Brexit”, used any data from his various insurance businesses to, shall we say, help oil the campaign wheels of Leave EU, he has been quick to warn off questioners. He told Carole Cadwalladr of the Observer “Eldon has never given or used any data to Leave.EU. They are separate entities with strong data control rules. And vice versa … Make any mistakes relating to the business and we will be most assuredly coming after the Guardian & you”.
Banksy in the poosy
Thus the encouragement to anyone and everyone interested in the growing Brexit data misuse story to dig a little deeper. And those digging did not have to do much excavating before they uncovered the latest little local difficulty for Banksy and his pals.
Former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Keiser has been speaking to the Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee today. And what she had to say about Banks and Leave EU left onlookers in no doubt that, even if data from Eldon Insurance was not used in the referendum campaign, the intent was certainly there.
As Alex Hern at the Guardian has told, Ms Keiser “said she had ‘specific concerns of legality’ about the working practices of Leave.EU, the unofficial pro-Brexit campaign founded by the insurance magnate Arron Banks. She described Banks explicitly asking her if there could be savings on the work Cambridge Analytica was carrying out if the company could process data from Leave.EU, Ukip and Banks’ insurance company Eldon together”.
Why would there be any need for CA to “process data from Leave.EU, Ukip and Banks’ insurance company Eldon together”, other than as part of the referendum campaign? Worse for Banks, Ms Keiser added “We were never commissioned to do this work. But I do believe that this work was carried out, just not by Cambridge Analytica.”
And it got yet worse: “Kaiser also described attending the headquarters of Leave.EU to supervise the organisation’s data collection team in order to ensure that the information they received through their phone banking operation was useful for the data analysis. When there, she said, she was surprised to discover that the people staffing the phones were employees of Eldon Insurance”. Is Banksy coming after them yet?
Ms Keiser had this observation to make: “In regards to this proposal and work that I believe was undertaken, with or without us, there’s a few specific concerns of legality. Firstly it’s in relations to breaches of electoral law, for chargeable work, some of which I did which was never paid for, and unreported to the electoral commission … Secondly, I have evidence from my own eyes of possible breaches of the Data Protection Act concerning the usage of personal and commercial data of individuals in the Eldon Insurance database and possibly the Ukip database, being used for the benefit of the Leave.EU campaign”.
While Banksy decides if he really is coming after them yet, another report on today’s proceedings is rather more to the point, claiming Ms Keiser “believed Leave EU leadership had combined data from Ukip members, Eldon Insurance and GoSkippy Insurance customers as well as Leave.EU data for analysis by a US university and the targeting of political messages around the EU referendum”. And who might that have been?
GoSkippy CEO's New Office shock horror
This is where the real bomb gets dropped. After describing the actions of Banks and his pal Andy Wigmore as having created “their own Cambridge Analytica”, she added “Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore have told multiple individuals that they took my proposal and copied it and they created their own Cambridge Analytica, which they called Big Data Dolphins in partnership with the data science department at the University of Mississippi”. That word “dolphin” is so popular with right-wingers, isn’t it?
She also claimed “If the personal data of UK citizens who just wanted to buy car insurance was used by GoSkippy and Eldon Insurance for political purposes, as may have been the case, people clearly did not opt in for their data to be used in this way by Leave EU. I have similar concerns about whether Ukip members consented to the use of their data”.
And on top of that, she said of that call centre that “every single person that they called was a lead or a customer from Eldon Insurance or GoSkippy”.
Wiggy has now “called Ms Kaiser’s statements a ‘litany of lies’ which she invented ‘to fit the anti-Brexit narrative’”. But the story is now out there, and enquiries are already being made with that University in the USA. Also, bodies like the Information Commission will want to have words with Banksy as a matter of urgency.
Either Brittany Keiser just made it all up on the hoof, which would have taken some doing, or Arron Banks is implicated in the most blatant and fraudulent misuse of data seen for some time. Which of those is true I will leave to others to find out.