Earlier this year I wrote about a questionable survey on the Conservative Party website, which failed to comply with the legal requirements regarding capture of email addresses. It is perhaps unsurprising to see something similar now being done in the name of the Labour Party.
An innocuous looking form on Labour’s donation pages lies underneath a statement that almost 44 million babies have been delivered under NHS care since 1948. The form invites people to find out what number their birth was. There are of course lots of this type of thing on the internet: “What was number one when you were born?” “Find out which Banana Split you are” etc. But this one, as well as asking for people’s date of birth, asks for their (first) name, email address and postcode. And, sure enough, underneath, in small print that I suspect they hope people won’t read, it says
The Labour Party and its elected representatives may contact you about issues we think you may be interested in or with campaign updates. You may unsubscribe at any point
So, they’ll have your email address, your first name and a good idea of where you live (cue lots of “Hi Jon” emails, telling me about great initiatives in my area). All very predictable and dispiriting. And also almost certainly unlawful: regulation 22(2) of The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR) says that
a person shall neither transmit, nor instigate the transmission of, unsolicited communications for the purposes of direct marketing by means of electronic mail unless the recipient of the electronic mail has previously notified the sender that he consents for the time being to such communications being sent by, or at the instigation of, the sender
This Labour web page impermissibly infers consent. The European Directive to which PECR give domestic effect makes clear in recital 40 that electronic marketing requires that prior, explicit consent be obtained. Furthermore the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), issues clear guidance on PECR and marketing, and this says
Organisations must give the customer the chance to opt out – both when they first collect the details, and in every email or text. Organisations should not assume that all customers will be happy to get marketing texts or emails in future…It must be simple to opt out. When first collecting a customer’s details, this should be part of the same process (eg online forms should include a prominent opt-out box…
The ICO’s guidance on political campaigning is (given the likelihood of abuse) disappointingly less clear, but it does say that “An organisation must have the individual’s consent to communicate with them [by email]”. I rather suspect the Labour Party would try to claim that the small print would suffice to meet this consent point, but a) it wouldn’t get them past the hurdle of giving the option to opt out at the point of collection of data, and b) in the circumstances it would crash them into the hurdle of “fairness”. The political campaigning guidance gives prominence to this concept
It is not just in an organisation’s interests to act lawfully, but it should also have respect for the privacy of the individuals it seeks to represent by treating them fairly. Treating individuals fairly includes using their information only in a way they would expect
I do not think the majority of people completing the Labour Party’s form, which on the face of it simply returns a number relating to when they were born, would expect their information to be used for future political campaigning. So it appears to be in breach of PECR, not fair, and also, of course (by reference to the first principle in Schedule One) in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. Maybe the ICO will want to take a look.
I see that this page is being pushed quite hard by the party. Iain McNicol, General Secretary, and described as “promoter” of the page has tweeted about it, as have shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham and Ed Miliband himself. One wonders how many email addresses have been gathered in this unfair and potentially unlawful way.