Investigation: Corbyn's close ties to 'anti-Semitic' Palestine group & questions about Labour's access to personal data

A Westmonster investigation has exposed Jeremy Corbyn’s close links to an allegedly ‘anti-Semitic’ pro-Palestine campaign group and raised serious questions about the way personal data may have been obtained by someone at the heart of the Labour Party.

It’s emerged that UK Labour’s Head of Digital Organising is a chap called Ben Soffa – he’s married to Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith, an avid Corbynista. Soffa is credited with masterminding Corbyn’s Labour Leadership victory and it appears he was working for the party during the last election as well.


But Soffa, who is actually of Jewish heritage, is also an active director of 3 companies – Organic Campaigns, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Calling For Action.

So Jeremy Corbyn’s Head of Digital, the man who helped mastermind his leadership bid, is the active director of a pro-Palestine group – it appears the Scottish wing of which was recently accused of trying to block an Israeli group from attending a march. Oh, and in September one of the London-based group was found guilty of racism towards a Jewish shopkeeper.

It’s hardly a good look on the anti-Semitism front, Jezza.

It appears groups such as Palestine Solidarity Campaign gather details from their supporters/members to help with their various political campaigns. It seems to use a piece of software developed by Ben Soffa himself. It’s called iParl. It’s then collated by Organic Campaigns, a company Soffa owns.

Organic Campaigns’ ‘About’ section says it’s used by “dozens of campaigns, charities, trade unions and others to power their work, with millions of messages sent to those in power by supporters”.

So here are the main questions: As Director of Organic Campaigns and inventor of iParl, is Ben Soffa able to access the personal details of loads of people?

Is it reasonable to suggest that if he was able to access that information, given his current job and proximity to Jeremy Corbyn, he could have used it to the political advantage of the Labour Party?

The Information Commissioner’s Office has been made aware of all the details of Westmonster’s investigation and has passed the information on to ‘the relevant teams’.

HERE’S THE ALLEGED PAPER TRAIL:

Palestine Solidarity Campaign states: “We collect the information you give to us by email, forms that you fill in on our website, over the telephone, or through the post.

“Some information is gathered when you join, make a donation, complete an online action, make a purchase, register for an event, sign up to receive email updates, or through other interactions. We ask for your name, address, phone number, and email (plus payment details if you are joining, donating, or buying something).

“We may share your details with TRUSTED SERVICE PROVIDERS in order to help us conduct some of the activities above.”

This personal information appears to be gathered using a software called iParl. iParl was invented by Ben Soffa – according to its website: “iParl was developed by Ben Soffa from 2008 to fill the gap for a low cost, yet powerful ecampaigning tool for UK civil society organisations.”

iParl is also the software that Ben Soffa uses as part of his company Organic Campaigns.

If Soffa does have access to these details then would that not have potentially been open to abuse at a General Election? Should this have been declared?

Moreover, Organic Campaigns’ privacy policy states: “We collect, store and use the following kinds of personal information:

  • details that you explicitly enter as part of a campaigning action and information derived from this, such as your constituency
  • information about your visit to our site and the computer you are using, such as your IP address
  • any other information that you choose to send us via email or otherwise

“The main transfer of information is to the originators of the campaign in which you may have participated. Each organisation will have its own policy in relation to how they handle the data from this point on. We cannot accept any responsibility for the misuse of data after it is provided to the originator of a campaign.”

So this personal data is passed on to the people running the various campaigns and then there’s little to no checks on what they do with it after that, seemingly.

But Ben Soffa is Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, so would that mean these personal details would go to him? And then would he be free to share them with the Labour Party?

Would the heads of other campaigns not also be free to pass details on to whoever they please, i.e. the Labour Party?

Even if there’s some kind of protective wall between the personal data obtained using Soffa’s software and the Labour Party, could this then be circumvented in the way outlined above?

 

But here’s the kicker: Organic Campaigns also states that some peoples data is stored outside the EU. In fact, it says some of it may be transferred to “any country“. Different countries have much worse data protection laws than EU nations.

Exactly what countries have details been sent to and, once peoples personal information has arrived in those countries, where else/who else can it be sent?

Transferring data to America, for example, should apparently be done with an individual’s explicit consent or under the US privacy shield or under special contract terms. Has this been adhered to?

But this poses another crucial question: Have people been made fully aware that their personal data could perhaps be being handled in some way by the Labours Party’s Head of Digital Organising, or by his business at least, and potentially sent abroad, where there’s even less rules about where they can be passed on after that?

Anybody who innocently gives their information to, say, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, would seemingly have to trawl through the privacy policy of the umbrella company to find out.

And once that data has been sent elsewhere, could it then find its way back into the hands of the Labour Party?

But analysis of Organic Campaigns’ accounts throw up even more questions: Its
total net assets in 2017 was a mere £33,273. It’s hardly a goldmine! Especially considering it works with “dozens of campaigns, charities and trade unions”. It seems that it could be more of a useful information gathering tool than a thriving business.

The Information Commission is currently investigating Cambridge Analytica and several Brexit groups, it’s trawling through their use of data and finances. But this Westmonster investigation raises some very similar questions. Let’s see if it gets the same response…