With the publication of an interim report on her investigation into the Brexit referendum, the information commissioner has issued a strong statement of intent against the tech giants
Nobody does cool, calm and collected like Elizabeth Denham does cool, calm and collected. In a week that has seen Britain near-implode under the twin psychic assaults of a World Cup semi-final and a Donald Trump visit, the UK information commissioner offered a rare moment of poise as she explained in her clear, calm voice – on Radio 4’s Today programme – that she had notified Facebook of her intention to serve it the maximum possible fine for breaking the law and misusing data – £500,000. And that she was pursuing a criminal prosecution of SCL Elections Ltd, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica.
It was a big moment, more than 18 months in the making, though it’s still only the start. Because this was an interim report of an investigation into the Brexit referendum that Denham launched in February last year – triggered by our first Observer article on Cambridge Analytica – and which in May broadened out to become a wider inquiry into the use of data in politics. It has become the biggest data protection investigation anywhere, and these were not just her first targets – a strong statement of intent against the tech giants and any company with the potential or ability to abuse people’s data – but it was also the first insight into what her 60-strong team has been doing. And it was as revealing in its own way as Robert Mueller’s latest set of indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers that was unsealed on Friday.