A data protection expert has called for the State to intervene in the investigation into the use of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica, and has warned that an Oireachtas bill could legalise such data-harvesting.
The Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), Helen Dixon, says that her office is checking with Facebook what oversight it has to monitor how app developers and third parties use the social media site.
However, solicitor Fred Logue, who specialises in data protection and information law, said he does not believe the public can rely on assurances from those involved.
“I think what it needs is State intervention,” he told Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1. “I think it needs a State investigation, exercising statutory powers to compel the production of information to actually give explanations, on the record, for what exactly has happened.
“I think, particularly in Ireland, we need to know if this has happened in Ireland, if these tactics have been used here.
“We’ve had an election in the last two years, we have a very hotly contested referendum coming up, and we have local and European elections. So, if it was me, I’d be asking: ‘Has Cambridge Analytica, or its ilk, used Facebook for these purposes in Ireland?’ ”
Mr Logue also warned that a bill working its way through the Oireachtas may legalise the use of personal data, as in the Cambridge Analytica case.
He said: “There’s a very concerning section in that bill, Section 43, which, by my reading, will actually make lawful the behaviour that we have seen by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.
“There’s a specific prohibition on processing personal information that reveals political opinions in the new General Data Protection Regulation.
“Essentially, it says that you can only process that information if it’s required by the democratic system of a member state.
“But, rather than embrace that, the Government has proposed a section that gives a very wide scope to political parties, to public authorities, to political candidates or officeholders, to process personal data revealing individuals’ political opinions, and that is exactly what Facebook and/or Cambridge Analytica have done.”
The DPC’s office said it is “following up with Facebook Ireland, in relation to what forms of active oversight — of app developers and third parties that utilise their platform — is in place, with a view to ensuring it is effective”.
“The issue of friends’ data being harvested when a Facebook user engaged with an app on Facebook was resolved by Facebook in May, 2014, when access to friends’ data was restricted by a platform upgrade,” said the DPc in a statement.
“This followed a 2012 recommendation, by DPC Ireland, on foot of its re-audit of Facebook Ireland, in relation to access to friends’ data.”
The DPC further warned that “the micro-targeting of social media users, with political advertisements and sponsored stories, remains an ongoing issue today”.
It said that it intends to issue guidance to the public in the absence of laws regulating political targeting of users online.
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