The Trinidad and Tobago government Friday said it would “do all in its power” to investigate allegations made by a former employee of the British based political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA), that it had undertaken a projectin Trinidad involving the harvesting the data of the country’s population.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi told Parliament that the whistle-blower, Christopher Wylie, had told United Kingdom lawmakers that the company, combines data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication for the electoral process, had undertaken the work in Trinidad in 2013 under the former People’s Partnership administration headed by then prime minister Kamla Persad Bissessar.
“Madam Speaker, this government will do all in its power to investigate this very important matter. To unearth whether the rights of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have been infringed and to hold all such persons responsible for breaches of the law of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago properly accountable,” Al-Rawi said.
Persad Bissessar was not present in the Parliament when the Attorney General made the statement, but earlier this week she described as ‘fake news’ claims that the main opposition United National Congress (UNC), which was a part of the coalition government between 2010-15 or People’s Partnership engaged the services of Cambridge Analytica.
She said neither the party nor the previous administration had any dealings, engagements or contracts with CA before and after 2010 and that the allegations were a distraction by the government.
She also called on the Keith Rowley administration to provide evidence.
Earlier opposition legislators had tried unsuccessfully to get Parliament to prevent Al-Rawi from continuing the statement after indicating that he had passed the allocated time for statements by ministers.
But the government moved a motion suspending the Standing Orders and Al-Rawi said he it was therefore “incumbent upon the Office of the Attorney General …to cause an audit of all government ministries, statutory authorities, state enterprises and the National Security Council to see whether any contract was established, whether any payments were made and whether any services were rendered by …Cambridge Analytica, Aggregate IQ (AIQ) and the Strategic Communications Laboratory Group”.
He told legislators that during the 2015 election campaign, “citizens will recall there were wide scale receipts of unsolicited personalised political messaging from entities promoting the United National Congress”.
He said that the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution enshrines “as a protected fundamental right the right to privacy” and that the Interception of Communication Act “strictly prohibits the interception of communication in the manner alleged by the whistle-blower in testimony given before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of Commons of the British Parliament”.
He said the Computer Misuse Act also prohibits the unauthorised access to data.
“The alleged acts committed by Cambridge Analytica and its affiliates…potentially constitute breaches of the laws of Trinidad and Tobago,” Al-Rawi said.
In his testimony before the British legislators, Wylie, said the project involved accessing raw internet service provider data for the entire country, to monitor what people were browsing.
“One of the things I’ve also passed on to the Committee is some of the contractual documentation and emails from some of AIQ’s past projects. One of them was for, at the time the Minister of National Security of Trinidad, in the contractual documents and also email chain, part of the project was to go out and try to find a way of accessing raw internet service provider data for the entire country to monitor what people were browsing.”
He acknowledged that AIQ inherited a lot of what he called the ‘company culture’ of Cambridge Analytica including a ‘total disregard for the law’.
“As I understand that is not legal in Trinidad, it certainly won’t be illegal here,” he added.
Al-Rawi said that the audit being called for by the government would ensure an application for a “keen eye for any masked transactions through nominated or trustee entities to hide the true identity and nature of any services provided.
“Further…as the central authority for Trinidad and Tobago, the Office of the Attorney General shall take avail of the lawful provisions available by way of the Legal Mutual Assistance and pursue the cooperation of international investigative agencies that are conducting parallel investigations into these matters.
“We shall reach out to authorities in the United Kingdom and the United States of America to secure information and evidence relating to this most serious matter of alleged illegal conduct and activity,” Al-Rawi told legislators, adding that he had instructed the state’s attorneys in the United Kingdom “to take immediate steps to secure the evidence and materials provided by persons including the whistle-blower
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar has described as “a malicious, deliberate falsehood” statements by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi linking the former People’s Partnership government to the activities of the British based political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA), that it had undertaken a project involving the harvesting the data of this country’s population.
“The Attorney General’s statement, by virtue of what appears to be calculated omissions and deliberate vagueness, amounted to a mischievous effort to mislead the Parliament, and by extension, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, in what is undoubtedly an important issue regarding their privacy rights in the uncontrolled and largely unregulated global virtual world of social media,’ Persad Bissessar said in a statement.
Opposition legislators had tried unsuccessfully to get Parliament to prevent Al-Rawi from continuing the statement after indicating that he had passed the allocated time for statements by ministers. But the government moved a motion suspending the Standing Orders.
Persad Bissessar said in the statement that she wished “categorically condemn as a malicious, deliberate falsehood, allegations made today by Attorney General Faris Al Rawi concerning the global controversy that has evolved over the issue involving social media giant *Facebook* and British data analysis firm SCL/*Cambridge Analytica*.
She said that Al Rawi cited brief statements made by a whistle-blower who claimed that the company dealt with a former government minister and political officials, but did not specify the names or any further details of such claims.
But she said “I wish to once more, on the record, categorically deny my personal involvement at any time or in any fashion with these companies, as well as refute all such claims about the United National Congress party that I lead.
“I reiterate my previous comments and say that in no way, manner or form did the UNC members of the former People’s Partnership Coalition Government nor did any member of our Party Executive have any such interaction or dealings, engagements or contracts with SCL/Cambridge Analytica before 2010, post 2010, before 2015 or post 2015.”
But she seemed to indicate that any involvement the British firm had in Trinidad and Tobago was with the Congress of the People’s (COP) party, a member of the coalition administration that she headed.
She said that a “mere “Google Search” of this matter provided her with the following details, contained in a news article published by top and internationally reputed Canadian broadcaster and news service, the CBC News” which stated that the British company’s first contract with SCL was in 2013, for political work in Trinidad and Tobago with the Congress of the People party.”*
“It is therefore evident from this respectable and credible news report from the CBC News of Canada that the UNC was not the political party referred to by Mr Wylie, nor were any of its sitting members of the People’s Partnership Government.
“It can also be concluded that the Attorney General had easy access to this public information, yet deliberately opted to omit it from his Parliamentary statement in an effort to wrongly and unjustly smear the UNC and its leader and members,”’ she said.
Persad Bissessar said that at the earliest opportunity “we intend to file a motion of breach of privilege by the Attorney General in Parliament”.