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Cambridge Analytica whistleblower calls for second referendum as he tells MEPs data scandal 'caused Brexit'

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 05/06/2018 Ella Wills

Christopher Wylie, former Cambridge Analytica research director, testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled, "Cambridge Analytica and the Future of Data Privacy" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago © Reuters Christopher Wylie, former Cambridge Analytica research director, testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled, "Cambridge Analytica and the Future of Data Privacy" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago The former Cambridge Analytica employee, who blew the whistle on the company's activities, has called for a re-run of the Brexit vote as he was grilled by the European Parliament in Brussels.

Christopher Wylie told an MEP's inquiry that the "crisis" extended beyond issues of privacy, suggesting that the scandal had helped the Leave victory in the UK.

He said: "I don't believe Brexit would have happened were it not for the data targeting technology and network of actors set up by Cambridge Analytica."

It came as Britain's data watchdog told the European Parliament that her organisation's year-long investigation into the use of personal data by political campaigns was "unprecedented in its scale".

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter would have to take greater responsibility for material provided on their sites in future.

Related: Senators seek answers on Cambridge Analytica (USA TODAY )

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She said that she is "deeply concerned" about the impact on democracy of the misuse of social media users' personal information, adding that legal systems had failed to keep up with the rapid development of the internet.

Ms Denham said that her office's investigation, triggered by allegations of misuse of Facebook users' personal data, was thought to be the largest undertaken by any data protection authority in the world.

MEPs on the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs heard that the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) investigation covered potential criminal and civil breaches involving more than 30 organisations and dozens of individuals, including social media companies, data brokers, analytical firms, academic institutions and political parties and campaign groups.

More than 40 investigators are working full-time on the ICO probe, backed up by around 20 external legal and forensic digital recovery experts, and have already seized hundreds of terabytes of information on servers and computers.

Christopher Wylie, former Cambridge Analytica research director, testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled, "Cambridge Analytica and the Future of Data Privacy" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago © Reuters Christopher Wylie, former Cambridge Analytica research director, testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled, "Cambridge Analytica and the Future of Data Privacy" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago Ms Denham told the committee: "We have seen that the behavioural advertising ecosystem has been applied across political campaigning to influence how we may vote.

"I am deeply concerned about the fact that this has happened without due legal or ethical considerations of the impacts on our democratic system."

She told MEPs: "Online platforms can no longer say that they are merely a platform for content. They must take responsibility for the provenance of the information that is provided to users."

Mr Wylie raised concerns that the issue had helped cause Brexit.

"This crisis is not just one of privacy, it is one that may have led the EU to losing one of its largest member states," he said.

Christopher Wylie testifies during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Cambridge Analytica at Capitol Hill, Wednesday, May 16, 2018, in Washington. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) © AP Christopher Wylie testifies during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Cambridge Analytica at Capitol Hill, Wednesday, May 16, 2018, in Washington. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) "What I witnessed at Cambridge Analytica should alarm everyone. Cambridge Analytica is the canary in the coalmine of a new Cold War emerging online."

Mr Wylie told MEPs that senior members of the Leave campaign were now working within Theresa May's administration and wanted to "stall any public inquiry until they have secured Brexit".

He said: "I don't believe Brexit would have happened were it not for the data targeting technology and network of actors set up by Cambridge Analytica.

"I don't believe the Brexit result was won fairly or legitimately."

Mr Wylie added: "If this happened in Nigeria or Zimbabwe, the EU would demand a re-run of the vote. Perhaps we should hold the UK to the same standard."

As well as pursuing specific allegations - many relating to the use of data in the UK's 2016 EU referendum - the ICO is aiming to produce a report by the end of this month on the regulatory and legislative reforms needed to respond to the challenges of targeted online advertising.

Additional reporting by Press Association.

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