Use of personal data in political campaigning: ICO consults on draft code of practice

August 11, 2019

The ICO has issued a consultation on a new framework code of practice for the use of personal information in political campaigning.

The ICO states that it is vital in any democratic society that political parties, candidates and campaigners are able to communicate effectively with voters. But it is equally vital that all organisations involved in political campaigning use personal data in a way that is transparent, understood by people and lawful. In recent years political campaigning has become increasingly sophisticated as new digital technologies and communication tools developed rapidly. 

Campaigners now use ever more innovative techniques to attempt to understand their potential voters and target them with political messaging. Trust and confidence in the integrity of the democratic processes risks being disrupted because recent evidence suggests that voters do not understand the invisible nature of these uses of personal data. However unintended, this poses a risk of hidden manipulation which undermines the democratic process. The ICO says that this must change, as people can only make truly informed choices about who to vote for if they are sure their decisions have not been unfairly influenced.

The ICO says that as a result, its current guidance on political campaigning is outdated. It has not been updated since the introduction of the GDPR and does not reflect modern campaigning practices.

Consequently, the ICO has now drafted and is consulting on a new framework code of practice for the use of personal data in political campaigning. The Code will also have the potential to become a statutory code of practice if the relevant legislation is introduced, which the ICO has previously asked the UK government to do. 

The framework code of practice does not introduce new requirements for campaigners but seeks to explain and clarify the GDPR, the Data Protection Act 2018 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 SI 2003/2426 as they already stand. It also seeks to provide practical guidance and useful examples on ways campaigners could comply with their obligations whilst carrying out common political campaigning activities.

Before drafting the framework code, the Information Commissioner launched a call for views in October 2018, seeking input from people and various organisations. 

The consultation ends on 4 October 2019.