Title MoD granted 'List X' status to Cambridge Analytica parent company | UK news | The Guardian
Publication Date 2018-03-21
Text MPs call for investigation into concerns over SCL Group and its access to secret documents
The chair of the Commons home affairs committee has called for a full investigation into the activities of Cambridge Analytica after it emerged that its parent company was granted provisional “List X” status by the Ministry of Defence until 2013, granting it access to secret documents.
The Labour MP Yvette Cooper said there were serious concerns around SCL Group and its subsidiary Cambridge Analytica, which is being investigated by the information commissioner over a huge leak of Facebook data.
SCL Group had a close working relationship with the MoD and was paid almost £200,000 for carrying out two separate projects. List X contractors are bound by strict rules over document security, and the MoD insists there was no recorded data breach.
Cooper said: “Given the mounting concerns about Cambridge Analytica’s disregard for proper standards, particularly on information and data protection, we ought to know what the government contracts were with Cambridge Analytica or SCL and what access to information they had.”
In 2014, MoD officials worked with SCL Group on “Project Duco” to analyse how people would interact with certain government messaging.
The work on Project Duco is likely to raise concerns that government officials were aware of Cambridge Analytica and SCL’s operations, and intended to use them to promote government messages.
“There are now growing concerns about whether there should be a wider investigation into their activities,” Cooper said. “There are concerns about the implications for democracy, about information being used in an illegitimate way and no one has the chance to counteract it, and that raises real problems.”
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The SCL project was carried out by the MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), which is focused on maximising “the impact of science and technology for the defence and security of the UK”.
According to a heavily redacted document released under freedom of information rules, Project Duco was part of the government’s “human and social influence” work, and SCL was paid £150,000. The company was also paid £40,000 for work carried out in 2010-11.
The government team, which included psychologists and analysts, worked with SCL in 2014 to assess how “target audience analysis” could be used by the British government.
Over the course of the project in 2014, MoD officials flagged concerns over SCL’s data management, saying there were “rudimentary security mechanisms” in place.
As part of Project Duco, UK officials assessed SCL’s methods, which included analysing “psychological and anthropological principles” and assessing how these could contribute to the government’s strategic communications.
Over the course of the project, SCL assessed behaviour patterns in young unmarried males and key factors affecting instability among this group.
Shortly after the work with DSTL, SCL delivered training for Nato, which was subsequently passed on to Georgian, Ukrainian and Moldovan government officials.
According to an audit, SCL was paid C$999,657 (£548,000) for work on target audience analysis, including an eight-week training course for Nato staff.
Target audience analysis allows governments or companies to assess how to target individuals with a message to change behaviour.
As part of Project Duco, the MoD was given “source background detail” by SCL, which included “analysis processes, data collection plans and sampling strategies”.
Cambridge Analytica and SCL are under pressure over the use of Facebook data. A whistleblower has said Cambridge Analytica was provided with the disputed Facebook data in 2014.
Target audience analysis (TAA) is a controversial approach to government communications that evolved during the battle for hearts and minds in Afghanistan.
According to an assessment of the method by the Cdr Steve Tatham of the Royal Navy in 2015, it allows governments to “diagnose the exact groupings that exist within target populations”, leading to a ranking that “depends upon the degree of influence they may have in either promoting or mitigating constructive behaviour”.
It then uses “psycho-social research parameters” in order to “determine how best to change that group’s behaviour”.
According to Statham, the data “builds up a detailed understanding of current behaviour, values, attitudes, beliefs and norms, and examines everything from whether a group feels in control of its life to who they respect and what radio stations they listen to.” He added: “TAA can be undertaken covertly.”
During the work with SCL, the MoD noted that “it was ascertained that some SCL staff are vetted and they have rudimentary security mechanisms in place (eg a locked cabinet).”
The report stated: “It is not thought that they have the capability to handle any electronic material above unclassified not considered the secure dissemination of documents.”
An MoD spokesman said: “We have no current relationship or contracts with SCL Group, which includes Cambridge Analytica. As such, the company has no access to any classified information.”