UNC Govt violated citizens’ privacy

Wednesday, November 13, 2019 - 11:45

...CA whistle­blow­er re­veals more in new book


While of­fi­cials of the Unit­ed Na­tion­al Con­gress (UNC) con­tin­ue to de­ny their role in the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­i­ca scan­dal, a new book by an ex-work­er of the com­pa­ny de­tails the work they did in Trinidad and To­ba­go in 2013 and paints a dark pic­ture of the da­ta col­lect­ed and used by the then Peo­ple’s Part­ner­ship gov­ern­ment.

More fright­en­ing is the claim in the book, writ­ten by for­mer com­pa­ny da­ta con­sul­tant Christo­pher Wylie, that the then gov­ern­ment al­lowed them to use da­ta min­ing to “spy” on vot­er be­hav­iour to track T&T cit­i­zens’ pat­terns and be­hav­iour.

“We were spy­ing, pure and sim­ple, with cov­er from the Trinida­di­an lead­ers,” Wylie claims in his new book Mindf**k.

He said while na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty of­fi­cials were in­ter­est­ed in the mined da­ta to help with the ram­pant crime lev­els and to iden­ti­fy per­sons more like­ly to com­mit crimes, “the Trinida­di­an gov­ern­ment wasn’t in­ter­est­ed on­ly in re­duc­ing crime.”

“They knew that if we built a tool to fore­cast be­hav­iour, they could use it in elec­tions. They weren’t just fo­cused on fu­ture crim­i­nals, they al­so want­ed to ze­ro in on fu­ture po­lit­i­cal sup­port­ers,” Wylie wrote.

An­oth­er alarm­ing al­le­ga­tion by Wylie was that the then gov­ern­ment did not seek to pro­tect the da­ta of the cit­i­zens, but in­stead gave Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­i­ca un­fet­tered ac­cess to unredact­ed da­ta on every­one.

“Es­sen­tial­ly, the Trinida­di­an gov­ern­ment was vi­o­lat­ing the pri­va­cy of all its cit­i­zens in one swoop,” he said.

“The raw cen­sus da­ta would ob­vi­ous­ly be use­ful for the project but it wasn’t a re­source we could ex­pect to have avail­able to us in de­vel­oped coun­tries. Pri­va­cy is a con­cern usu­al­ly re­served for the rich.”

Wylie said the com­pa­ny was able to tap in­to the main telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in­fra­struc­ture, pick an IP (In­ter­net pro­to­col) ad­dress and sit and watch what that per­son was do­ing on the in­ter­net. Their mon­i­tor­ing turned up in­ter­est­ing types of be­hav­iour from T&T cit­i­zens, Wylie ad­mit­ted. He de­tailed one in­stance of hon­ing in on a sin­gle In­ter­net user who was tog­gling be­tween plan­tain recipes and porn.

“Not sur­pris­ing­ly, it was a lot of porn. Peo­ple were brows­ing every­thing imag­in­able, in­clud­ing the cul­tur­al­ly spe­cif­ic ‘Tri­ni Porn,’” he said.

The com­pa­ny’s soft­ware and un­lim­it­ed ac­cess to lo­cal in­ter­net pro­to­cols al­lowed Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­i­ca to zoom in to the in­ter­net users’ ad­dress­es and even use Google Earth to pin­point the users’ homes, he said. How­ev­er, Wylie ad­mit­ted to a “bizarre” feel­ing of ob­serv­ing what peo­ple were watch­ing on a “tiny, far­away is­land.”

Ac­cord­ing to Wylie, the T&T con­tract in­clud­ed “build­ing in­fra­struc­ture for Face­book da­ta har­vest­ing, click-stream da­ta, ISP (in­ter­net ser­vice provider) logs and the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of IP ad­dress­es and user agents to home ad­dress­es,” which ef­fec­tive­ly re­moved the ca­su­al anonymi­ty of in­ter­net use.

The UNC, the ma­jor­i­ty par­ty of the then amal­ga­mat­ed Peo­ple’s Part­ner­ship that formed the gov­ern­ment at the time, ve­he­ment­ly de­nied any con­nec­tion to the scan­dal that rocked the coun­try in 2018 af­ter Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­i­ca’s prac­tices were ex­posed in­ter­na­tion­al­ly.

Guardian Me­dia reached out yes­ter­day to UNC MP Rod­ney Charles, who was then the par­ty’s cam­paign man­ag­er, for com­ment on the mat­ter. He said he had not yet seen the book and af­ter some of the para­graphs of the book were read to him, said he had no clue about what was di­vulged by Wylie.

How­ev­er, Charles said it was time for Wylie to pro­vide more specifics about his claims like names, emails and con­tracts. He said if Wylie can’t do so, it is noth­ing short of a glo­ri­fied “Nan­cy sto­ry”.

Charles point­ed out that this was not a case of some­thing hap­pen­ing a month ago but years ago. This, he said, is why Wylie should be spe­cif­ic in his claims.
“I have no clue about what you are talk­ing about. I am too prin­ci­pled to be in some­thing like that. He needs to pro­vide hard da­ta, call names, pro­vide emails. If he can’t do that then this is a fairy tale sto­ry,” Charles main­tained. (See Page A6)
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