PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Trinidad and Tobago’s Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi has ordered an audit into all government agencies and state entities on the heels of claims that a government minister in a previous administration hired a British-based consultancy firm to illegally harvest data of the twin-island republic’s citizens.
Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who worked for the British political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, revealed Trinidad and Tobago’s involvement in the scandal when he addressed United Kingdom lawmakers on Tuesday.
He said he had passed on contractual documentation and emails from some of the past projects of AggregateIQ (AIQ), an affiliate of Cambridge Analytica, including one “for the, at the time, Minister of National Security for Trinidad”.
“Part of the project was to go out and find a way of accessing raw Internet service provider data for the entire country to monitor what people were browsing in that country. As I understand it, it’s not legal in Trinidad and it certainly wouldn’t be legal here.”
In a statement to Parliament yesterday, Al-Rawi said Cambridge Analytica, AIQ, and the Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) Group and their affiliate companies allegedly carried out illegal data and communication mining activities in Trinidad and Tobago in 2013 under the former Kamla Persad-Bissessar-led People’s Partnership government.
He said the alleged activities breached the law in Trinidad and Tobago and there will be further digging to get to the bottom of what happened and who was involved.
“The Interception of Communications Act, Chapter 15:08 at Section 6, strictly prohibits the interception of communication in the manner alleged by the whistleblower in testimony given before The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons of the British Parliament.
“The Computer Misuse Act, Chapter 11:17, at Section 3, prohibits the unauthorised access to data. The alleged acts committed by Cambridge Analytica and its affiliates/alter egos potentially constitute breaches of the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.
“In the election campaign of 2015, citizens would recall that there were wide scale receipts of unsolicited personalized political messaging from entities promoting the United National Congress. It is therefore incumbent upon the Office of the Attorney General in discharging duties under the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, to cause an audit of all Government Ministries, Statutory
“Authorities, State Enterprises and the National Security Council to ascertain whether any contracts were established, whether any payments were made and whether any services were rendered by the named companies, Cambridge Analytica, AggregateIQ, and the Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) Group, and/or any of their affiliate/alter ego companies/entities.
“I shall ensure that this audit includes the application of a keen eye for any masked transactions through nominated/trustee entities to hide the true identity and nature of any services provided,” Al-Rawi told Parliament.
The Attorney General added that his office would also cooperate with international investigative agencies that are conducting parallel investigations into the matter.
“We shall reach out to authorities in the United Kingdom and the United States of America to secure information and evidence relating to this most serious matter of alleged illegal conduct and activity,” he assured.
“Accordingly, Madam Speaker, I am to inform this Honourable House that yesterday [Tuesday] I instructed the State’s Attorneys in the United Kingdom to take immediate steps to secure the evidence and materials provided by persons including the whistleblower Christopher Wylie.”
Al-Rawi said the government would do “all in its power to investigate this very important matter to unearth whether the rights of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have been infringed and to hold all such persons responsible for breaches of the laws of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago properly accountable”.
However, Persad-Bissessar has condemned Al-Rawi for linking her People’s Partnership government and her United National Congress (UNC) to the illegal activities by Cambridge Analytica.
In a statement issued after the Attorney General’s presentation in Parliament, she denied any personal involvement or that of her party with the company, and served notice that the Opposition intended to file in Parliament, at the earliest opportunity, a motion of breach of privilege by the Attorney General “for his malicious and deliberate falsehood”.
“The Attorney General’s statement, by virtue of what appears to be calculated omissions and deliberate vagueness, amounted to a mischievous effort to mislead the Parliament, and by extension, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, in what is undoubtedly an important issue regarding their privacy rights in the uncontrolled and largely unregulated global virtual world of social media,” she said.
“Al Rawi cited brief statements made by a whistle-blower by the name of Christopher Wiley in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, who claimed that the company dealt with a former Government Minister and political officials, but did not specify the names or any further details of such claims.
“The Attorney General, without providing any such names or documents or evidence, went on to put his own dubious spin on these limited allegations by Mr Wiley.
“With a clear intention to serve a mischievous and desperate political agenda in the wake of the massive failures and corrupt practices of his ruling Rowley regime, the Attorney General maliciously claimed, without referencing any shred of evidence in any form, that this alleged dealing was perpetrated by the UNC politicians and Kamla Persad-Bissessar-led Government.”
She suggested that fingers should be pointed elsewhere, however, when she said that a Google search would provide details contained in an article published CBC News, that Cambridge Analytica’s first contract with SCL was in 2013, for political work in Trinidad and Tobago with the country’s Congress of the People party.
“It is therefore evident from this respectable and credible news report from the CBC News of Canada that the UNC was not the political party referred to by Mr Wylie, nor were any of its sitting members of the People’s Partnership Government,” Persad-Bissessar said.
“It can also be concluded that the Attorney General had easy access to this public information, yet deliberately opted to omit it from his Parliamentary statement in an effort to wrongly and unjustly smear the UNC and its leader and members.”