U.K. Wants `Police Powers' to Go After Facebook as Scandal Grows

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. lawmaker demanding answers from Facebook Inc. over allegations of election-rigging and illegal data-sharing called for the country’s data watchdog to be given “police powers” to probe wrongdoing.

Damian Collins, chairman of Parliament’s Culture committee investigating the impact of social media on recent elections, also summoned Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg to give evidence to his committee, frustrated by inadequate previous responses from more junior executives.

“I think the case for further strengthening the powers of the information commissioner is unanswerable now,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg, calling on Culture Secretary Matt Hancock to amend the Data Protection Bill -- due to be debated by lawmakers again in mid-April.

If Hancock doesn’t act, Collins’s committee will seek that change, he said.

The ICO is in the process of obtaining a warrant to search the premises of Cambridge Analytica, the British firm accused of harvesting Facebook user profiles in its work for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Collins said the new powers for the commissioner would speed up the process.

Asked to Go

Facebook had sent staff to Cambridge Analytica’s office on Monday night prior to Elizabeth Denham, the U.K. data commissioner, asking for a warrant to search the premises. Facebook were then asked to leave by the ICO.

Later that evening, Collins said he received a statement from Facebook saying they weren’t Facebook employees, but data analysts and a lawyer who’d been hired by Facebook to go in and act on their behalf.

“Why were they there? Were they looking to go in and recover the data they thought Cambridge Analytica had got and destroy it?’’ he questioned, adding that Cambridge Analytica’s Chief Executive Officer Alexander Nix would be called again to explain himself to lawmakers.

At present, the ICO can issue fines of as much as 500,000 pounds ($700,000) and prosecute those who commit offenses such has hacking. Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman James Slack said Tuesday the government would listen to calls from lawmakers.

Facebook did not respond in time for publication.

Pressure On

Pressure is growing on Facebook regarding its links to Cambridge Analytica. It is currently under investigation by a U.S. privacy watchdog over the use of personal data of 50 million users by Cambridge Analytica regarding the U.S. election.

Collins has previously slammed Facebook for not sending senior executives to answer questions, stating that it’s not acceptable for companies to send witnesses who avoid responding “by claiming not to know the answers.”

He asked Zuckerberg Tuesday to answer for a “catastrophic failure of process” as reports emerged concerning Cambridge Analytica, the U.K. firm at the center of the privacy scandal.

“We will continue to pose different questions to Facebook that at some point they are going to need to answer,” Collins told Bloomberg. “Whether they are overly concerned by what Parliament thinks, they should be concerned by what their shareholders think and what their users think.”

Collins, who has an 11-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son, said he wouldn’t let his children use Facebook even when they’re old enough due to safety concerns.

“There are lots of questions about the way Facebook has behaved, and very few answers,’’ he said.

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