MPs from across party lines today tore into a senior executive of a B.C.-based tech firm linked to the Facebook data scandal, accusing him of obfuscation and reminding him several times that he was under oath.
AggregateIQ chief operating officer Jeff Silvester appeared alone today before the House of Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee, where he faced a grilling about his firm’s ties to the ongoing international controversy about how Facebook’s massive trove of user data was turned into a political tour by the pro-Brexit and Donald Trump presidential campaigns.
“We’ve been entirely cooperative with this committee,” Silvester said in his opening remarks, describing the answers that he and company CEO Zackary Massingham gave to MPs on April 24 as “completely accurate and truthful.”
The Victoria-based company is subject to investigations by the offices of the B.C. Privacy Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office.
“We respect the important work being done by the privacy commissioners and this committee, and wish to continue a constructive dialogue in support of that work,” Silvester said.
AIQ rejects ‘wildly speculative comments’
But Silvester also rejected accusations that his company lied to MPs about its work during the 2016 Brexit referendum, when it provided online campaign and advertising services to four groups that pushed for Britain to leave the European Union.
The controversy began in March, when whistleblower Christopher Wylie accused his former employer, the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, of improperly harvesting private data from tens of millions of Facebook users to build psychological profiles of voters.
Wylie testified that the firm used that information to help secure victories in 2016 for Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential campaign and for the Leave camp in the Brexit referendum.
Silvester told MPs in April that AggregateIQ worked with four pro-Brexit organizations — Vote Leave, BeLeave, Veterans for Britain and the Democratic Unionist Party — helping to target U.K. voters through advertising on social media.
In two cases, Vote Leave paid AggregateIQ for work the company did for other pro-Brexit campaigns — including a payment of more than £625,000 for BeLeave.
A former pro-Brexit volunteer has alleged that the two camps — Vote Leave and BeLeave — colluded to duck campaign spending limits, using AIQ to get away with it.
“Speculation by third parties does not constitute fact, and I ask that you not rely upon rumours, innuendo and speculation,” Silvester told MPs.
The three-hour meeting got off to a rough start, with MPs expressing their displeasure with the fact that AggregateIQ CEO Zackary Massingham failed to appear — apparently for undisclosed health reasons — even though he had been formally summoned.
Committee vice-chair and Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said the committee would meet behind closed doors after hearing from Silvester to discuss referring Massingham’s absence to the House of Commons, as it may constitute grounds for a finding of contempt of Parliament.