Irish government party in trouble over unsolicited emails

Fianna Fáil, the political party that is in government in Ireland, is in big trouble with the Data Protection Commissioner over sending unsolicited emails out to people.

Complaints were lodged to the Commissioner by four people who had received emails looking for support in the upcoming General Election, which is only weeks away. The individuals said they were unaware of how Fianna Fáil got their email addresses and said that they never consented for their details to be used by the party.

The Data Protection Commissioner is not at all pleased, particularly considering it was only a few days ago that it warned all of Ireland’s political parties about their practices in the lead-up to the election, according to the Irish Examiner.

Some of these warnings included: “Do not attempt to obtain or use contact information from third parties” and “Avoid sending electoral messages to persons other than those — such as party members — who can reasonably be assumed to consent to receipt of such messages.”

The unsolicited emails were signed off by Micheál Martin, the new leader of the party after last week Taoiseach Brian Cowen lost the support of his coalition partners, the Green Party, and many politicians in his own party.

The messages outlined Martin’s goals for repairing the significantly damaged reputation of the party in the election campaign. This move is likely to further damage the party, however, which has fallen from the largest party in the country to one of the smallest in pre-election opinion polls.

The people who complained about the unsolicited emails are believed to be only a small number of those who received these messages and there are significant concerns over how the party got hold of their email addresses.

In the 2007 election 50 complaints were made over the same kind of unsolicited emails and it was discovered that parties were obtaining contact details from third party sources, such as friends, schools and sports clubs.

The Data Protection Commissioner contacted Fianna Fáil on Thursday and again on Friday, but so far has received no response. Now the Commissioner has given Fianna Fáil until later today to respond to its inquiries or it will escalate its investigation. If the party fails to comply, the Commissioner’s office can exercise powers for obtaining information.

“We expect an immediate response,” said Gary Davis, the Deputy Commissioner.