A Wrong Petition?

Who exactly is a newspaper targeting with its petition, and is it gathering personal data fairly?

The Northumberland Gazette, in a no doubt well-intentioned campaign, is urging its readers to petition the Information Commissioner (IC)

to do more to stop robocalls

“Robocalls” being

unwanted, automated, recorded calls, which are a blight in [sic] people’s lives

There are a couple of problems with this. Firstly, as Tim Turner pointed out, the IC cannot increase his own powers: that is a matter for Parliament, and, indeed, he would, er, be exceeding his powers if the IC increased his own powers. Christopher Graham (or, rather, the role he fills) is a creature of statute, not a superhero. Moreover, the IC has himself been lobbying for Parliament to increase his powers to deal adequately with contraventions of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 . If the newspaper wants the IC to have greater powers it should certainly assist the IC in seeking them, but I think it should do so with better information, and by encouraging people to lobby their MP, rather than by submitting their details into a google doc.

In my experience people often end up on spammers’, and “robocallers'”, lists, because they submit their personal details to meaningless and unclear websites. Privacy notices, where given, are a pain to read, but if fine properly, they should tell you who is collecting the data, and for what purposes, and what your rights are.

In fact, failure to provide such information when gathering personal data is likely to constitute a contravention of the first data protection principle in the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). It’s notable, and ironic, that the Northumberland Gazette seems to provide no privacy notice whatsoever in connection with its petition. One hopes that those submitting a form don’t end up on more spammers’ lists, and find themselves complaining to the IC about an apparent breach by the newspaper of their rights under the first DPA principle.

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