ICO warns politicians on pre-referendum data breaches

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued a stark warning to political parties.

It wants them, along with campaigners, to respect data protection laws when it comes to lobbying for the upcoming UK referendum and local and national elections.

The UK-wide referendum on the UK voting system will take place on 5 May to coincide with local elections in England and Northern Ireland.

Elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly will also take place the same day.

However, the watchdog is concerned that over zealous campaigners and party members could breach data laws when it comes to sending out  direct mail, emails, text messages, phone canvassing and automated phone calls.

It also wants campaigners to learn where they need consent when it comes to form filling and sharing of details.

In the past, parties have fallen foul of the ICO for going against its guidelines. Those named and shamed include the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (SNP) for breaching the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations after marketing individuals without their consent.

Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said although parties want the vote it doesn’t mean they could forget their legal responsibilities to respect privacy rights.

The watchdog has now produced guidance for campaigners explaining how they can ensure that they are complying with the Data Protection Act as well as the accompanying Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.