THE ALLEGATIONS contained in the claims of Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie are serious and worthy of a full and proper investigation. Claims of unlawful interception of communications and the mining of the private data of citizens merit the urgent action taken by Minister of National Security Stuart Young and Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith.
Young has correctly, to our mind, referred the matter to the police, and Griffith, wasting little time, has already revealed arrangements are in train for officers to seek an interview with the whistle-blower. The matter should not be allowed to drag on. But we must also be mindful of the question of a potential custody chain of illegally harvested data.
If it is indeed the case that such a stash exists, it must be ascertained whether it is still being put to use. In other words, there is urgency to this matter because if the allegations are true, then wrongdoing could still be occurring ahead of elections.
However, because this is potentially a divisive political matter, we would advise all concerned, from political actors to law enforcement authorities, to exercise caution in their public utterances and to allow the police to do their work.
Too often have law enforcement activity taken on the tint of a political witch-hunt to the detriment of the officers involved, as well as members of the public searching for the truth. Already, some analysts have cast doubt on the allegations, while political figures have dismissed them as fairytale.
The best way forward is a conclusive determination by law enforcement authorities, not speculation. Certainly, Wylie’s allegations throw a spotlight on a seldom-debated matter: the lawful reach of the State’s apparatus of surveillance and its potential for abuse. The frightening thing about his claims is how they suggest that notwithstanding interception legislation which included so-called safeguards and review procedures, political operatives can in the end get their hands on that which no citizen has given explicit permission for them to handle: private data.
It may well be that, whatever the outcome of these police processes, the time has come for a proper re-evaluation of the current scheme of legislation for which many have expressed concerns in the past.
Meanwhile, we observe the Parliament’s approval of new legislation that stiffens the fines for persons who obstruct or interfere with police, prison, immigration and other officers doing their work. Such legislation is to be welcomed, especially in the context of the overt acts of interference that officers too frequently face in the field, as well as the well-documented assaults on the membership of the Prison Service.
But in a similar vein, this legislation should underline the responsibility of all persons to not do anything that would imperil agents of the State in the lawful exercise of their duties. That includes the utterances of politicians.