ICO takes enforcement action against Labour over unsolicited calls

Claire Walker

As the next General Election looms over the horizon, Datonomy would like to run a quick poll of its own:
Q1: What do Coronation Street’s Vera Duckworth and James Bond have in common?
Q2: What – in spite of their political differences – do Labour, the Conservatives, the SNP and the Lib Dems all have in common?

Answer: Eagle- eyed Datonomists will spot the connection straight away. (1) Vera, aka, actress Liz Dawn, and former 007 Sean Connery have both been used by political parties (Labour and the SNP, respectively) for pre-recorded campaign messages, and in both cases the parties have got into hot water with the ICO for breaching data protection rules. (2) All the major political parties have now been on the receiving end of enforcement notices for breaching data protection rules in connection with electioneering campaigns.
To be more precise, the issue is the technique of sending unsolicited automated (i.e. pre-recorded) marketing calls to individuals without their prior “opt in” consent constitutes a breach of Regulation 19 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.
Yesterday the ICO issued a press release announcing that it had issued an enforcement notice against the Labour Party in connection with a promotional campaign featuring the voice of “our Vera” last spring in the run up to local and European elections. The recorded message had previously been used by the party in 2007 and had prompted complaints from individuals and informal action by the ICO (after which the party promised not to use the technique again). The use of an enforcement notice is – in general terms – still a relatively unusual step by the ICO – but not surprising in this case given that the party had already been warned that what it was doing breached the legislation. And it would appear that the political world has been particularly prone to incurring this sanction.
The Commissioner’s view that such electioneering techniques fall within the scope of “marketing” is well established. Furthermore the parties have no excuses for ignorance, as specific guidance was issued by the ICO in 2004 and publicised in the run up to the last General Election in 2005.
And nobody can accuse the ICO of being partisan, as according to the press release all the major parties have now transgressed: the SNP (with their Sean Connery campaign) and the Conservatives in 2005, the Lib Dems in 2008 and Labour in 2007 and 2009. (There is a delicious irony here in that apparently it was a Lib Dem complaint which helped to “shop” the SNP and Tories in 2005, only to for the Lib Dems themselves to be caught red handed in 2008.)

As we brace ourselves for months of unrelenting electioneering, at least it is reassuring to know that the ICO is there to defend us from unwanted celebrity endorsement messages over the phone.

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