Election Campaign and Data Protection

May 5, 2014

The Information Commissioner has written to the main UK political parties warning them about the need to follow data protection and electronic marketing rules ahead of the European and local elections on 22 May.

The Information Commissioner Christopher Graham’s letter follows a number of concerns raised with the ICO about the political parties’ use of market research surveys to gain political support.

The letter points out that genuine market research can be carried out in order to help inform a party’s positioning and formulate policies but communications claiming to be research that are also intended to canvass support now or in the future are covered by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. The regulations apply to all electronic marketing, including texts, calls and emails.

Christopher Graham said:

‘This is about the political parties demonstrating best practice, and being open and upfront with voters about their marketing activities, explaining to people in a transparent way how their personal details will be used. The rules apply to political parties, just as they do to businesses and charities. In communicating with voters, the parties need to be clear about what their intentions are and why they are asking people for their information. We don’t need election campaigns featuring nuisance calls, spam texts and canvassing under the guise of “research”.’

The ICO has produced detailed guidance for campaign groups explaining the data protection and electronic marketing rules. The guidance states that campaigning organisations must:

• only send marketing emails, texts or make automated telephone calls to people who have consented to being contacted;
• identify themselves and provide an easy way to opt-out of future direct marketing at all times;
• be clear on whether they are carrying out market research (seeking someone’s opinions) or political campaigning (seeking to persuade them to vote a certain way); and
• be extremely careful when using ‘viral marketing’ that encourages individuals to contact friends and family on the organisation’s behalf.

Read Christopher Graham’s letter in full (pdf)

Laurence Eastham writes:

It is a little sad that political parties appear to need reminding about data protection and marketing rules but the ICO’s intervention is timely. Judging from the election communications received to date by this voter, a reminder that banality, lies, and ungrammatical text should be avoided would be equally timely, but that is beyond the ICO’s remit.