A District of Columbia court should unseal Facebook Inc.'s internal communications on Cambridge Analytica now that the Securities and Exchange Commission has ended its probe into the data scandal, the city’s attorney general says.
The SEC July 24 announced a $100 million settlement with Facebook, resolving its investigation of the company’s involvement in the scandal with the now-defunct political consultancy firm. D.C. attorney general Karl Racine (D) is alleging in his own lawsuit that the agency referred, in a court document, to communications that Facebook is fighting to keep under wraps in his case.
The communications show company employees were aware of potential problems involving Cambridge Analytica as early as September 2015, Racine says.
“The SEC’s Complaint quotes directly from the very Document Facebook has moved to seal in this action,” Racine said in a June 25 court filing. “As the contents of the Document are now publicly available, this weighs in favor of unsealing the Document,” he added.
A Facebook spokesman declined to comment.
Facebook political advertising employees in September 2015 discussed potential problems with Cambridge Analytica’s data practices, the SEC said in a complaint it released upon announcing the settlement.
The SEC’s complaint said the communications showed Facebook employees “recognized Cambridge as a well-known firm within the political advertising space and a client of Facebook’s advertising business, and had described it as a ‘sketchy (to say the least) data modeling company that has penetrated our market deeply.’”
Cambridge Analytica collected Facebook user data through its “This Is Your Digital Life” application to target voters in the run up to the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Donald Trump.
The company has said it first learned that app creator Aleksandr Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica through media reports in December 2015.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told lawmakers in April 2018 testimony on Capitol Hill that he first learned about the scandal when the Guardian reported on it in December 2015.
Facebook is battling state and local officials over the scandal on multiple fronts.
Besids Racine’s lawsuit, Cook County, Ill. prosecutor Kim Foxx (D) sued the company. A group of states, including Illinois, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, launched a multi-state enforcement probe into the social media giant.
Gibson Dunn LLP represents Facebook.
The case is District of Columbia v. Facebook Inc., D.C. Super. Ct., No. 2018 CA 008715 B, 7/25/19.