In yet another startling discovery in the data sharing saga taking over the entire world, we got some revelation nearer to home. The Congress was a client of disgraced firm Cambridge Analytica, a whistleblower at the heart of the Facebook data breach scandal has said in his testimony before UK lawmakers. Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee, asserted before a British parliamentary committee that is investigating fake news.
Mr Wylie said the British political consulting firm accused of using Facebook user data for political campaigns had done “all kind of projects” in India and he could provide the committee with some documents that he had about these projects.
Labour MP Paul Farrelly, a member of the parliamentary committee, while asking questions, had asked the whistleblower about the firm’s role in India. “When you look at Facebook’s biggest market, India is the top concerning numbers of users. Obviously, that’s a country which is rife with political discord and opportunities for destabilisation,” he said.
“They (Cambridge Analytica) worked extensively in India. They have an office in India,” Mr Wylie responded.
“I believe their client was Congress. But I know that they have done all kind of projects. I don’t remember any national project, but regionally… India is so big that one state can be the size of Britain. They do have offices there, staff there. I believe I have some documentation in India which I can provide if you’re interested,” the 28-year-old said.
During his evidence, Wylie also said that his predecessor Dan Muresan had 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, a data protection specialist who had a role in the investigations, added that he had heard of rumours that Muresan was on the payroll of an Indian billionaire who wanted the Congress to lose.
“According to reports from India, apparently he was paid for by an Indian billionaire who wanted the Congress to lose. So he was pretending to work for one party but really…paid underhand by others,” said Mr Dehaye, suggesting that Romanian, Kenyan and Indian journalists should collaborate to piece together the events.
Last week, Avneesh Rai, the co-founder of Cambridge Analytica’s Indian counterpart spoke to Journalists that he believed that the UK-based firm had an unidentified client in 2012 who wanted the Congress party defeated.
Soon after the testimony details emerged, the ruling BJP said Congress president Rahul Gandhi had been exposed and should apologise.
“Rahul Gandhi needs to apologise to the nation for trying to subvert India’s election process using the Brahmastra of Cambridge Analytica,” Mr Prasad, also the country’s information minister, said. He had last week given the data mining and analysis company time till this month-end to come clean on its projects in India.
The Congress dismissed the attempt to link it to the political consulting firm. “Why is India’s perpetually lying Law Minister throwing allegations in the media, he is in power why doesn’t he show all proof and then register an FIR. We challenge you,” the Congress’ Randeep Singh Surjewala said.
The Congress and the BJP have traded charges after it emerged that Cambridge Analytica could have used illegal data to influence elections in India.
Ravi Shankar Prasad has accused the Congress of using Cambridge Analytica in last year’s Gujarat election. “This company is known for aggressive, fake, news, below standard campaign. Do I need to record before you the language of Rahul Gandhi, Gabbar Singh Tax and the whole social media campaign? Therefore the footprint of the DNA of this company was evident in Gujarat,” Mr Prasad had told reporters.
The minister also alleged that the Congress planned to use Cambridge Analytica for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and boost its president Rahul Gandhi’s profile.
The Congress has emphatically denied the charge. Its spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said last week: “The BJP’s factory of fake news has produced one more fake product today.”
Cambridge Analytica has been at the centre of a political storm for its role in the US presidential elections after revelations in its sting operation. It’s role in any election in India is yet unproven. But the unprecedented rise of the digital presence of the Congress party in the past one year provides ammunition to BJP’s claim of election interference. The need of the hour is evidence that proves the link, like the British parliamentary committee, the Indian counterparts should call the Indian wing of Cambridge Analytica for questioning.