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UK seeks warrant to examine Cambridge Analytica servers after Facebook data misuse

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Illustration by William Joel / The Verge

Authorities from the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) are in the process of obtaining a search warrant to examine the internal servers of data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica after reports outlined how the company misused the Facebook data of up to 50 million users.

Facebook sent members of a digital forensics firm, called Stroz Friedberg, to perform its own independent audit of Cambridge Analytica, but Stroz Friedberg “stood down” when UK authorities requested they wait until a warrant is secured for the ICO’s own criminal investigation. Facebook revealed the turn of events in a blog post update this afternoon.

The London-based data mining and analytics company was employed by President Donald Trump’s election campaign to inform Facebook ad targeting. The firm is now at the center of a sprawling controversy over unethical use of Facebook data to influence the 2016 US presidential election. Bombshell reports in The New York Times and the Guardian this past weekend revealed that the data that allegedly formed the foundation of Cambridge Analytica’s election toolset was obtained by violating Facebook’s terms of service, while Facebook itself failed to confirm the deletion of the data.

The reports were based on a first-person account of former Cambridge Analytica employee and whistleblower Christopher Wylie. Wylie now claims the company and its behavior research affiliate Strategic Communication Laboratories have direct links to Russia and used the Facebook data to influence the outcome of the US presidential election. Meanwhile, the second part of an undercover investigation conducted by the UK’s Channel 4 aired today in which Cambridge Analytica executives were caught on tape bragging about bribing and entrapping politicians using hired sex workers to compromise its clients’ political opponents.

Cambridge Analytica has denied any wrongdoing and says it will participate with any and all investigations.