The British government says it is seeking a warrant to search databases and servers belonging to Cambridge Analytica, the London-based company accused of using data from 50 million Facebook users to influence the 2016 presidential campaign.
U.K. Information Minister Elizabeth Denham had demanded access to Cambridge Analytica’s databases by Monday following reports that the company improperly mined user data from Facebook to target potential voters. However, after the firm missed the deadline, Denham told Britain’s Channel 4: “I’ll be applying to the court for a warrant.”
Cambridge Analytica says it used legal means to obtain the data and did not violate Facebook’s terms of service. Facebook has promised “a comprehensive internal and external review.”
Denham’s statement follows the latest revelation in the British media about the firm co-founded by former White House adviser Steve Bannon and heavyweight Republican donor Robert Mercer. The company is an offshoot of behavioral research and strategic communications company SCL Group with ties to the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.
On Monday, Channel 4 broadcast a hidden-camera exclusive that appeared to catch Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix acknowledging that the firm works secretly in political campaigns around the world by using front companies and subcontractors.
In a statement issued Monday, Cambridge Analytica charged that the video was “edited and scripted to grossly misrepresent the nature of those conversations and how the company conducts its business.”
Channel 4 says the recordings were made of meetings at London hotels between November 2017 and January 2018. They included Nix and two others speaking to an undercover reporter posing as a representative for a wealthy client trying to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka.
Nix attempts to sell the company’s potential services, including the deployment of political dirty tricks and “honey traps” to target opponents – including secretly filming politicians taking bribes or in the company of prostitutes.
“We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance,” Nix says on hidden camera. “We’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet.”
He is heard saying that one strategy for compromising opponents is to “send some girls around to the candidate’s house,” adding that he prefers to use Ukrainian girls. They “are very beautiful, I find that works very well,” he says.
Two other individuals, the company’s chief data officer, Alex Tayler and Mark Turnbull, the managing director of CA Political Global, also appear in the hidden-camera footage.
Nix advises the undercover reporter that “I’m just giving you examples of what can be done, what has been done.”
Nix also says in the footage that he is willing to help his “client” lie to the public. “It sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true, as long as they’re believed,” he says and adds that “often we set up, if we are working, we can set up fake IDs and websites” posing as students or tourists.