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Ramadhar on CA scandal: COP was never involved in data harvesting

Monday, April 9, 2018
St Augustine MP Prakash Ramadhar

Although former leader of the Congress of the People (COP), Prakash Ramadhar has categorically denied any involvement with the data mining company Cambridge Analytica (CA), he has admitted to having interactions with its parent company SCL.

Confirming this during a press conference at his constituency office in St. Augustine on Saturday Ramadhar declared the COP had not been involved in any data harvesting/procurement of personal information of electors in the run-up to the 2015 general election.

Pressed to say if his denial could be viewed as a dismissal of one CA official who claimed otherwise, Ramadhar said, “He could say what he wants.”

Ramadhar defended the COP, “I could tell you the COP never engaged in any illegal activity.”

Asked to say how the previous administration had come into possession of personal data of thousands of electors, Ramadhar said, “That is a whole new realm of which I have no knowledge. We were not involved in any electronic campaign at all, the COP’s campaign was very different from anybody else’s.”

The former minister stressed, “Let’s be very clear about it. I will tell you the COP did in fact have some work with SCL for the local government elections in 2013 and early 2014, and then that was it so we had no involvement in the 2015 campaign with SCL or CA or anyone like that.”

Referring to media reports, Ramadhar said, “CA is an off-shoot I believe of SCL.”

As the Sunday Guardian pressed Ramadhar to say if the information gathered during their early interaction with SCL in 2013/2014 could have been passed on/transferred/or accessed by CA, Ramadhar said, “Anything is possible.”

However, Ramadhar stressed, “Our work with SCL was that they were really shopping into us, showing us what they could do in terms of press releases, party imaging, stream-lining the party and we parted company in early 2014 or thereabouts.”

He said while, “There is the possibility of anything in life,” the COP, “Participated in nothing illegal or inappropriate.”

Ramadhar said during his time as the Legal Affairs Minister under the previous administration, he had never been approached in a professional or personal capacity by anyone seeking information that would have been recorded by his office with respect to divorce matters or the granting of fishing and hunting licenses.

He said, “I am unaware of any such approach to me personally nor did I provide any such information to anyone.”

Asked if information could have been accessed without the COP’s knowledge, Ramadhar said, “I would be speculating but like I said, anything is possible in this world.”

Claiming he had recently seen computer-generated videos which had been altered to make it appear as if persons were saying certain things when in fact this was not the case, Ramadhar said, “I am not saying that to divert attention, I am just saying I do wish to speculate. I know there are enquiries in progress and we await the results of those. It is important to get facts and not just suspicion or assumptions.”

Admitting that he tended to shy away from social media, Ramadhar said in this era of technology - it was difficult to maintain any kind of privacy.

He said, “There are computer programmes that looks at everything we do and say and what we buy, and then works out what our next preference might be. This is the digital age and that is why one must be very careful that if this is the new way of doing business, we have to be aware of that.”

With DNA legislation currently before the Parliament, he said, “Our very DNA would be a matter of record so there is nothing private or personal in the world anymore.”

Indicating his belief that an individual was entitled to certain level of privacy and that steps should be taken to protect and maintain this, Ramadhar said the perceived lack of privacy could lead to a lot of beneficial conversations not taking place.

However, he opined, “You cannot have absolute privacy in a democracy because the privacy leads to dark things sometimes such as criminality, so there must be a balance and the issue is how do we strike it.”

Ramadhar said the time was now to begin this debate as T&T remained in a state of flux where the old was meeting the new - with neither quite understanding or respecting each other.

COP leader denies involvement

The current leader of the COP, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, last week denied the party had any connection with Cambridge Analytica (CA).

At a media briefing at Chancellor Hotel, St Ann’s last week, she said, “Since these revelations, myself and others in the COP undertook a review of all the party’s documentation inclusive of minutes and meetings.

“Based on those investigations, we are not aware of any contractual engagement between the Congress of the People and SCL or CA.”

“At no point in time, as far as we are aware based on the documentation that we have reviewed, did the COP ever enter into any contractual engagement with any of these entities.”

Seepersad-Bachan said discussions with Ramadhar confirmed that he had had discussions regarding the party’s imaging and membership listing.

She said Ramadhar indicated that there was some engagement between the COP and SCL, but moreso he was only aware of the issue of SCL.

Seepersad-Bachan said SCL was engaged by the party and that discussions took place with respect to press releases and imaging for the 2013 local government elections.

Government To Probe CA’s Claims

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has indicated that Parliament will soon begin debating the CA scandal alongside investigations which will result in both foreign and local witnesses being summoned to speak about the company’s alleged work in T&T.

Cambridge Analytica (CA) is currently under investigation in the UK for using massive amounts of data from 50 million Facebook users to formulate political advertising on the Donald Trump election campaign.

The company is accused of using, for political purposes, personal information acquired from Facebook users.

Christopher Wylie, a former CA employee, recently testified before a UK House of Commons committee that CA worked for the T&T government in 2013.

Wiley referenced a former national security minister and CA’s monitoring of internet browsing in T&T, which Wylie admitted was illegal.

He pinpointed T&T as the site of a data and communication mining test project, alleging it formed the basis for CA’s subsequent activities in the UK and US.



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