I’ve written over the past few months about questionable compliance by the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democratic and Scottish National Parties with their obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003. And, as I sat down to write this post, I thought I’d check a couple of other parties’ sites, and, sure enough, similar issues are raised by the UKIP and Plaid Cymru sites
No one except a few enthusiasts in this area of law/compliance seems particularly concerned, and I will, no doubt, eventually get fed up with the dead horse I am flogging. However, a fascinating article in The Telegraph by James Kirkup casts a light on just why political parties might be so keen to harvest personal data, and not be transparent about their uses of it.
Kirkup points out how parties have begun an
extraordinarily extensive – and expensive – programme of opinion polls and focus groups generating huge volumes of data about voters’ views and preferences…Traditional polls and focus groups have changed little in the past two decades. They help parties discover what voters think, what they want to hear, and how best to say it to them. That is the first stage of campaigning. The second is to identify precisely which voters you need to speak to. With finite time and resources, parties cannot afford to waste effort either preaching to the converted or trying to win over diehard opponents who will never change sides. The party that finds the waverers in the middle gains a crucial advantage.
It seems clear to me that the tricks, and opacity, which are used to get people to give up their personal information, are part of this drive to amass more and more data for political purposes. It’s unethical, it’s probably unlawful, but few seem to care, and no one, including the Information Commissioner’s Office (which has, in the past taken robust action against dodgy marketing practices in party politics) has seemed prepared so far to do anything to prevent it. However, the ICO has good guidance for the parties on this, and in May this year, issued a warning to play by the marketing rules in the run-up to local and European elections. Let’s hope this warning, and the threat of enforcement action, extends to the bigger stage of the national elections next year.