Labour’s “HowManyOfMe” – legitimate use of the electoral register?

Is Labour’s shiny new web widget “HowManyOfMe” compliant with the party’s obligations under electoral and ePrivacy law?

Regulations 102 and 106 of the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 (as amended)mean that registered political parties can apply for a copy of the full electoral register, but they can only supply, disclose or make use of the information therein for “electoral purposes”. As far as I can see “electoral purposes” is nowhere defined, and, accordingly, I suspect it permits relatively broad interpretation, but, nevertheless, it clearly limits the use to which a political party can make use of electoral registration information.

With this in mind, it is worth considering whether the apparent use of such information by the Labour Party, in a new website widget, is a use which can be described as “for electoral purposes”. The widget in question invites people to submit their name (or indeed anyone else’s), email address and postcode and it will tell you how many voters in the country have that name. Thus, I find that there are 393 voters who have the name “Christopher Graham”. The widget then encourages users to register to vote. In small print underneath it says

in case you’re interested, this tool uses an aggregate figure from the electoral register and we’ve taken steps to protect the privacy of individuals

Well, I am interested. I’m interested to know whether this use of the electoral register is purely for electoral purposes. If it is, if its purpose is to encourage people to register to vote, then why does it need an email address? The widget goes on to say

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. You can see our privacy policy here.

But if they are using the electoral register to encourage people to give up email addresses which may then receive political marketing, surely this is stretching the use of “for electoral purposes” too far? Moreover, and despite the small print privacy notice, and the almost-hidden link to a generic privacy policy, any emails received by individuals will be likely to be sent in contravention of Labour’s obligations under The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR), which give effect to the UK’s obligations under Directive 2002/58/EC. This is because regulation 22 of PECR prohibits, in terms, the sending of electronic direct marketing (and promotion of a political party constitutes such marketing) without the prior consent of the recipient. Consent, the Directive tells us, must be “a freely given specific and informed indication of the user’s wishes”.  A vague description, as the widget here gives us, of what may happen if one submits an email address, and a statement about unsubscribing, do not legitimise any subsequent sending of direct marketing.

The email address I used is one I reserve for catching spammers; I’ve not received anything yet, but I expect to do so. I would be prepared to argue that any email I receive cannot be said to relate to the electoral purpose which permit use of the electoral register, and will be sent in contravention of PECR.  As I said recently, one of the key battlegrounds in the 2015 general election will be online, and unless action is taken to restrain abuse of people’s personal information, things will get nasty.

1The legislation.gov.uk doesn’t provide updated (“consolidated”) versions of secondary legislation, so there’s no point in linking to their version of the regulations.

The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

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4 Comments

Filed under consent, Data Protection, marketing, PECR, privacy notice

4 responses to “Labour’s “HowManyOfMe” – legitimate use of the electoral register?

  1. IG Wales

    So far as I can see there is not even a vague description of the purpose of email collection here. It is not on the widget and none of the descriptions in the policy seems apt. The widget is not, for example, “Site registration and email service”.

  2. Wyndham

    I used the widget to discover how many of me there are. 16 as it turns out and had no problems with Labour being rewarded through the use of my email. They then sent a series of emails, which annoy and aim to solicit money to support their political aims. I have now unsubscribed twice and received a confirmation of my unsubscription (which is captured), emailed and tweeted directly asking to be removed from all mailing lists. I have now resorted to the ICO complaints procedure as Labour is clearly in breach of their own legislation in respect to unsolicited mail. Another clear example of politicians and their do as I say not what I do mentality.

    • Thanks for this – I’ll be very interested to know what the ICO says.

      • Wyndham

        Just standard response from ICO. But Labour are really ramping up their email programme. I’d be interested in the implications from sending from the same email address though appending different people’s names to the correspondence. So I am now receiving emails from 5 different individuals all in the name of Labour. When you reply to the correspondence from Ed you get out of the office specific to his details.

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