A lawyer for two British businesses opposes a lawsuit against them in a Mississippi court, saying it's a political sideshow tied to now-dissolving data firm Cambridge Analytica. For now though, a judge is keeping in place an order won by a group that wants any evidence preserved of personal data belonging to British citizens.
Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Dewayne Thomas on Friday extended a temporary injunction against Big Data Dolphins Ltd. and Eldon Insurance Services Ltd.
The order could allow a British group called the Fair Vote Project to continue seeking proof that private data ended up in Mississippi. But the companies and the University of Mississippi say no such data ever arrived here.
"No data has been transferred," said Sterling Kidd, a Mississippi-based lawyer for Big Data Dolphins and Eldon Insurance.
The Mississippi action stems from testimony before the British Parliament by Brittany Kaiser, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica. That company is alleged to have used data from Facebook accounts to aid President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.
Kaiser told Parliament she believed leaders of the campaign backing the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union had misused private data from Eldon Insurance and the U.K. Independence Party during the campaign. Arron Banks, who controls Eldon, and Andy Wigmore told multiple people they were going to create their own "their own Cambridge Analytica" at the University of Mississippi using her proposals, Kaiser testified.
Both Banks and Wigmore were prominent proponents of the successful 2016 Brexit referendum on Britain leaving the European Union.
Cambridge Analytica has previously said that none of the Facebook data it acquired from an academic researcher was used to aid Trump's 2016 campaign. The company also says it did no paid or unpaid work on the Brexit campaign.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant cultivated a relationship with Banks, pro-Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage and others. The Republican Bryant says that he learned Eldon was looking for a place to do research and ultimately connected them with the University of Mississippi. Big Data Dolphins signed a lease for space in Oxford, Mississippi, in February.
After Kaiser's testimony, the Fair Vote Project sued in Mississippi state court, seeking a permanent order barring Eldon and Big Data Dolphins from altering, destroying or transferring any data in Mississippi. The organization says any transfer of data to the United States would break British law, and it wants to prove that Cambridge Analytica, Banks and Wigmore acted illegally to manipulate the outcome of the 2016 referendum.
Kidd, though, said the company never moved into the leased space. He says the case doesn't belong in Mississippi courts.
"This is a dispute between British citizens, your honor," Kidd said.
Kidd also warned that any order would be misused for political purposes.
"What these plaintiffs want is an order to go wave around British Parliament ... and misconstrue that order to suggest there's wrongdoing," Kidd said.
The University of Mississippi also denies that it has ever received any data.
"The university has no data of the type mentioned in the testimony before the British Parliament," spokesman Ryan Whittington wrote in an email. "The university has neither received nor analyzed data from Big Data Dolphins, Eldon Insurance or any entities or people associated with them."
Dorsey Carson, a Mississippi-based lawyer for Fair Vote Project, disputed that the University of Mississippi has received no data. Speaking of his talks with a university attorney after he sent them a letter telling them to preserve records, Carson said: "He did not say they have no data. He said they found no data."
Carson said the relationship between the companies and the University of Mississippi dates back to at least January 2017.
Carson also said Kyle Taylor is an American citizen who lives in the United Kingdom. Carson said that regardless of where a person has citizenship, "your privacy data is your privacy data." However, he said British law sets a higher standard than U.S. law for protection of the data.
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