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Saturday 22 September 2018
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Prakash: COP broke no law

Former legal affairs minister on data mining scandal

Prakash Ramadhar

SEAN DOUGLAS

WHILE admitting to once using the British behavioural research and strategic communication company SCL Group, an entity closely related to scandal-hit data firm Cambridge Analytica, Congress of the People (COP) former leader Prakash Ramadhar yesterday said the party had committed no wrong.

Speaking at his St Augustine constituency office yesterday at a news briefing held to advocate campaign finance reform, Ramadhar was asked if the COP was involved in gathering citizens’ private details.

“No, we were not. The COP never engaged in any illegal activity,” he said.

Cambridge Analytica, a firm part-founded by Steve Bannon, former adviser to United States President Donald Trump, was exposed for using citizens private details lodged on Facebook for the election of Trump, for illegally assisting the Brexit lobby, and interfering in elections in places including Kenya and Bihar, India. Details have emerged from the testimony to the British parliament of whistle-blower and Cambridge Analytica former research head Christopher Wylie, 28, and Britain’s Channel Four Television’s secret video recording of Cambridge Analytica’s former CEO Alexander Nix offering to use Ukrainian prostitutes and cash bribes to sway Sri Lanka’s general election.

Denying involvement by the COP in any surreptitious acquisition of citizens’ private phone numbers, Ramadhar said, “You take us to a whole new realm of which I have no knowledge. We were not involved in any electronic campaign at all. The COP’s campaign was very different from anybody else’s. So please let’s be very clear about it.”

Ramadhar admitted the COP’s link to SCL.

“I will tell you the COP did in fact have some work with SCL early on for local government elections in 2013 into early 2014, and then that was it.

“So we have no involvement in that 2015 campaign with SCL or Cambridge Analytica.”

“Our work with SCL was that they were showing us what they could do in terms of press releases, party imaging and streamlining the party, and we parted company in 2014 or thereabouts.”

Pressed, he said, “What I will tell you is that we participated in nothing illegal or inappropriate.”

Sunday Newsday asked about a media report that SCL had asked him to access data from registries of marriage and divorce and licences for hunting and fishing as the minister of legal affairs.

He replied, “I will tell I’m unaware of any such approach to me personally, nor did I provide any such information to anyone.”

Sunday Newsday asked his views on the obtaining of individuals’ private details such as one’s daily beverage consumption or which web-sites one visits, dubbed data mining.

He replied, “I can tell you personally I’m not on social media. I was born in an era that believes in paper, writing, and at the most I will look at YouTube videos. So I’m not into that era, that level, but I know the technology has dramatically moved on. For example you look at a show on Netflix and the next time you come up (new shows) are recommended for you. There are computer programmes that look at everything we do and say and buy and work out what our next preference might be.” He said one must be careful as this is a new era of doing business. Saying our very DNA can be put on record under the DNA Act, he said, “So, there’s nothing private or personal literally in the world any more.”

Sunday Newsday pressed to ask if he would support privacy for an individual’s personal information such as one-to-one communication. “I will say categorically that I do believe in the right to privacy. I do believe we have a duty to protect that privacy. I do believe if we don’t have privacy a lot of conversations that may be very beneficial may not occur, because you’d believe the minute I say something the whole world knows and sometimes you need a level of protection.”

Sunday Newsday asked Ramadhar for his reaction to world headlines alleging the abuse of data-mining by Cambridge Analytica/SCL, including the use of Ukrainian prostitutes to sway Kenyan elections.

“I cannot support any kind of impropriety, any kind of trickery or any kind of blackmail. Any government that involves itself in that sort of treachery doesn’t deserve to have power. That’s where I stand.”

A media house yesterday reported UNC officials denying knowledge of the party acquiring citizens private phone numbers from State agencies such as TSTT, TTEC, WASA, TTPost and GATE, but for one attendee at a meeting of June 4, 2014 admitting to asking party honchoes if such acquisition would be crossing a line or breaking the law.

Last Thursday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced a joint select committee of Parliament would be set up to look into the data-mining allegations. Prior to this, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi had said an audit of several ministries would be done to determine if any data had been wrongfully gathered.

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