Information Commissioner warns political parties over data privacy

Political parties could face fines and lost votes if they do not follow data privacy rules when planning direct and digital marketing campaigns in the run up to the general election, according to the information commissioner.

Christopher Graham

Speaking at the Direct Marketing Association’s annual data protection conference today (4 March), information commissioner Christopher Graham (pictured) says political parties that breach the rules will not only damage their reputation but could be penalised financially.

Graham, a former director general of the Advertising Standards Authority, adds the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will be issuing political parties and candidates guidance on the rules governing direct marketing channels such as direct mail, SMS text, emails, telemarketing and automated phone calls.

“I strongly urge the parties to adhere to the ICO guidance especially as their collective track record to date has been disappointing.

“We have taken enforcement action to uphold the law in the past and, with stronger powers available to me in just a matter of weeks, I intend to make sure that everybody stays in line,” he says.

Political parties are subject to the same data privacy rules and punitive sanctions as the marketing industry when using direct marketing to promote their parties to voters.

The Labour, Conservative and Liberal Parties have and will be using direct marketing extensively, particularly in marginal constituencies, in the run up to the May poll.

Graham’s warnings follow a recent ICO ruling against the Labour Party for breaching rules on unsolicited telephone calls. Labour was ordered to stop making automated direct marketing calls without consent after almost half a million recorded messages from Coronation Street actress Liz Dawn were left encouraging people to vote.

The ICO has also taken action against the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP for invading people’s privacy in the past.

Responding to Graham’s comments, Robert Keitch, chief of membership and brand at the DMA, says political parties should learn from those companies that have received negative media coverage, lost customers and damaged their brands as a result of data privacy breaches.

“Political parties can expect the same treatment if they fail to respect data privacy rules when they promote themselves to voters through direct marketing,” he says.

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