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)1 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 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.