UK data watchdog the ICO has launched a formal investigation into the use of data analytics in political campaigning after the EU referendum

Lynsey Barber
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The EU referendum has prompted the ICO to investigate (Source: Getty)

The data privacy watchdog has decided to launch an official probe into the use of data analytics in political campaigning in the UK, saying it "is clear these tools have a significant potential impact on individuals’ privacy".

The decision to pursue a fully-fledged probe into the use of personal data - which it called "high priority" - follows the Information Commissioner's Office looking into the issue in March after concerns were raised around the role of Cambridge Analytica in the EU referendum.

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"It is important that there is greater and genuine transparency about the use of such techniques to ensure that people have control over their own data and the law is upheld," said information commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

"Having considered the evidence we have already gathered I have decided to open a formal investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes. This will involve deepening our current activity to explore practices deployed during the UK’s EU referendum campaign but potentially also in other campaigns."

The investigation will look in-depth at the practices used in the EU referendum as well as potentially other political campaigns, and will involve speaking to political parties and campaigns, data companies and social media platforms, including companies operating outside the UK.

She said the findings will be reported later this year, adding that the timing as the country heads toward the General Election, was unrelated.

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"Given the big data revolution it is understandable that political campaigns are exploring the potential of advanced data analysis tools to help win votes. The public have the right to expect that this takes place in accordance with the law as it relates to data protection and electronic marketing," she said.

Cambridge Analytica denies any involvement with EU referendum campaigning.

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