The U.K.’s data chief is seeking an urgent warrant to access the computers and servers of Cambridge Analytica, according to reports Tuesday.
The news came hours after Elizabeth Denham, the U.K.’s Information Commissioner, ordered Facebook to stand down its own probe into the company over fears data may be deleted.
Denham is seeking a court order “to obtain information and access to systems and evidence related” to her investigation of Cambridge Analytica after it failed to adequately respond to an earlier demand for access to records and data.
The investigation was given added impetus Monday when forensic auditors from Stroz Friedberg, hired by Facebook, entered the offices of Cambridge Analytica to “secure evidence.” The move sparked concern among some U.K. lawmakers that vital evidence may be tampered with before the proper authorities could review it.
Facebook quickly relented. “At the request of the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, which has announced it is pursuing a warrant to conduct its own on-site investigation, the Stroz Friedberg auditors stood down,” the company said in a statement.
Damian Collins, head of the culture select committee, told the BBC that Facebook’s move to send a team of data analysts was worrying.
”The concern would have been, were they removing information or evidence which could have been vital to the investigation? It’s right they stood down but it’s astonishing they were there in the first place.”
A sting operation by Channel 4 News was broadcast Monday, showing Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix boasting how he could entrap politicians with Ukrainian sex workers, offer bribes to public officials, and use former spies to dig dirt on political opponents.
Nix has called the coverage “a coordinated attack by the media that’s been going on for very, very many months” adding that he regretted speaking “with a certain amount of hyperbole about some of the things that we do.”
Yet the revelations that the data of 50 million users was used by Cambridge Analytica and it’s parent company SCL to influence political campaigns, including the U.S. election in 2016, have also hurt Facebook.
The data was harvested through a Facebook app developed by scientist Aleksandr Kogan, who then alleged shared the information with the Cambridge Analytica.
Facebook saw its shares drop by 7 percent Monday, wiping almost $40 billion off the value of the company, while CEO Mark Zuckerberg is facing increasing criticism over his failure to publicly address the crisis.
The #DeleteFacebook hashtag was trending on Twitter Tuesday as droves of users announced they were leaving the platform for good.
Facebook Tuesday demanded to inspect the phone and computer of Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower at the center of the current crisis.
Wylie said that he has been working with the Information Commissioner’s Office for months, adding: “Facebook is not the authority here, the ICO is.”
Cover image: Alexander Nix, CEO, Cambridge Analytica, answers Matthew Freud, Founder and Chairman, Freuds, questions about 'From Mad Men to Math Men' during the final day of Web Summit in Altice Arena on November 09, 2017 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Horacio Villalobos - Corbis/Getty Images)