Escalating the row over alleged harvesting of Facebook profiles to influence elections, a former employee of data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica turned whistleblower told a British parliamentary panel Tuesday that he believed the Congress party was a client of the firm, and he was aware that the firm, with many employees and offices, had worked extensively in India.
In his testimony to the British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee, Christopher Wylie, on being asked about Cambridge Analytica’s work in India, said: “I believe their client was Congress. But I know that they have done all kinds of projects. I don’t remember a national project, but I know regionally. I mean India is so big that you know that one state can be, you know, as big as Britain. But they do have offices there, they do have staff there. I believe I have some documentation on India, which I can also provide to the committee if that’s something of interest.”
PTI adds from London: During his evidence, Wylie also said that his predecessor, Dan Muresan, Head of Elections at SCL Group, had also been working in India before he died in Kenya under mysterious circumstances. He claimed to have heard stories that Muresan, a Romanian national, may have been poisoned in a hotel room while in the African country.
Paul-Olivier Dehaye, co-founder of PersonalData.IO, a service that helps individuals regain control over their personal data, also giving evidence to the committee, added that he had heard reports that Muresan was being paid by an Indian billionaire who wanted Congress to lose elections.
“So he was pretending to work for one party but actually paid underhand by someone else,” said Dehaye. He added that it would be for Indian and Kenyan journalists to get together to investigate the matter further.)
Wylie’s remarks had the BJP and the government attacking the Congress. Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Congress had “lied” and “must apologise.”
“The whistleblower has publicly confirmed that the Congress was indeed their client. Rahul Gandhi had been trying to divert attention. Today, he stands exposed. The Congress and Rahul Gandhi must apologise to the nation”, Prasad told reporters.
Last week too, Prasad had accused the Congress of using Cambridge Analytica, “Why is the Congress in love with such firms?… whether to win elections, Congress will depend on data manipulation and theft of data? What is the role of Cambridge Analytica in the social media profile of Rahul Gandhi”, he had asked.
But Divya Spandana, who heads social media and digital communications for the Congress, called Wylie’s statement an “absolute lie”.
She said the Congress had never engaged Cambridge Analytica, neither for the 2014 general elections, nor for the upcoming 2019 elections. She said she had spoken to Rahul Gandhi, and the Congress had never used the data analytics firm.
She said Congress is not even “engaging them for 2019 because the proposal would have come to me. And it hasn’t”. She also said that Gandhi had never met or engaged with anyone from Cambridge Analytica. The party has neither reached out to the firm nor signed any contract. It is possible that they could have sent proposal”, Spandana said.
Congress communications in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala, tweeting on the claim that an Indian billionaire may have hired Cambridge Analytica to work against Congress, sought to know who had “conspired against the Congress”. It was obvious, he said, that it was the BJP’s doing.
Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories, has an Indian partner named Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI). On its website, the OBI counted BJP, Congress and Janata Dal (United) among its clients — it was taken down last week.
Incidentally, OBI is owned by Amrish Tyagi, son of senior JD(U) leader K C Tyagi. Amrish is a director in Ghaziabad-based Strategic Communication Laboratories Private Limited, which also has Alexander Nix as its director. Nix was Chief Executive of Cambridge Analytica whose executives were secretly recorded by undercover journalists of Channel 4 News, bragging about their election-influencing methods, including bribery and honey traps, against their client’s opponents. India was one of the countries that had been named.