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Exclusive: Government considering boosting ICO’s powers amid Cambridge Analytica scandal

The government is considering granting extra powers to the Information Commissioner’s Office in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, NS Tech can disclose.

The move comes after the ICO was forced to wait four days last week to secure a court warrant to raid the company’s offices, as part of an investigation into whether it had retained data harvested from Facebook without users’ consent.

The delay prompted calls – including from Damian Collins, chair of the parliamentary inquiry into fake news – for the data protection watchdog to be given the power to seize data without having to seek a court warrant.

Matt Hancock, the culture and digital secretary, told NS Tech today that the government is now “in the middle of intense discussions” with the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

“We are talking to the Information Commissioner about what extra powers she thinks are needed in light of this investigation,” he said. “The Data Protection Bill already before parliament strengthens her powers considerably. The question is whether we need to go further than even that.”

Under the new legislation, the ICO will be able to fine companies up to 4 per cent of their annual global turnover if they violate data protection laws. But the bill does not give the watchdog the right to raid offices without first going to court.

Cambridge Analytica said in a statement last week it deleted data reportedly belonging to 50 million Facebook users after it became clear it was obtained in a way that did not comply with the social network’s terms of service. But the New York Times has reported that copies of the raw data may still exist.

In an article published by the Observer last Sunday, Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica contractor, said Facebook never checked if the data had been deleted: “All they asked me to do was tick a box on a form and post it back.”

Facebook began carrying out its own audit of Cambridge Analytica last Monday before the Information Commissioner requested that it stand down.

Wylie is due to appear before the fake news inquiry in Parliament tomorrow morning. Suspended Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have also been asked to give evidence to the inquiry.