CBI starts probe in Cambridge Analytica data breach case

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New Delhi : The CBI has initiated a "Preliminary Enquiry (PE)" against British political consulting firms Cambridge Analytica (New York) and Global Science Research (GSR) Ltd, which allegedly illegally obtained Facebook data of Indians.

A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) official, requesting anonymity, said a "PE against two firms -- Cambridge Analytica NY and GSR -- has been registered to probe the Facebook data breach case".

"An FIR would be registered after the CBI finds clues during the PE. During investigation, the CBI will probe whether Cambridge Analytica had picked data from Global Science Research Ltd, which relates to the personal data of Indians on Facebook," said the official.

The probe will expand to verify "harvesting and misuse" of data, he added.

The CBI's move comes within fortnight of it receiving a reference from the Centre to start a probe into the matter.

The CBI got the reference from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in July to investigate the role of Cambride Analytica.

Union Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on July 26 had also told Parliament that the government has ordered the CBI to probe and find out if the British company had violated Indian laws.

The Minister told the Rajya Sabha that the firm had denied that data of Indians were breached, but this was in contradiction of the information received from Facebook.

According to the Minister, the Facebook had stated about the role of Cambridge Analytica in the data breach and promised to take various steps to ensure that such breach does not recur.

About Cambridge Analytica, the Minister had said: "Cambridge Analytica, on the other hand, gave an initial response that the data of the Indians were not breached, but this was not in conformity with what was reported by Facebook. It also did not respond to the subsequent communication, therefore it is suspected that Cambridge Analyitca may have been involved in illegally obtaining of data of Indians which could be misused."

Cambridge Analytica -- a company owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer -- declared bankruptcy this year following allegations that it used personal information harvested from 87 million Facebook accounts to help Donald Trump win the 2016 US presidential election.

The firm is accused of mining personal information without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements.