The Little Regulator at the Heart of Facebook’s Big Data Dispute

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A little-known U.K. regulator is taking Silicon Valley head-on, finding itself at the heart of a scandal that has shaken governments and caused Facebook Inc.’s shares to plummet. The Information Commissioner’s Office may get a warrant as early as Wednesday to search Cambridge Analytica — the British firm at the center of a dispute over the misuse of Facebook Inc. users’ data — after the company failed to respond to an access request.

Now the data-protection watchdog is facing down the company linked to ex-U.S. presidential adviser Stephen K. Bannon and major Republican donor Robert Mercer as public outrage over the use of internet data is growing. U.K. Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham will be under pressure to act, but has limited means to do so, with the current fine capped at 500,000 pounds ($700,000). Still, she can use her bully pulpit to order improvements to data protection, and prosecute companies that fail to meet the standards. U.K. politicians want to give the ICO more authority.

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