Sep 172009
 September 17, 2009  Posted by  Breaches, Govt, Non-U.S.

Sarah Marshall reports:

The chairman of Eastbourne Ratepayers’ Association is condemning the borough council for selling the names and personal details of people in Eastbourne.

The council agrees it is wrong – describing the practice as ‘disgraceful’ – but says the government forces it to sell the data.

Andrew Jay, chairman of the association, said, “When completing my electoral registration form I was amazed to learn that the council is in the practice of selling the list of names of persons on the Electoral Register to private companies for profit.

“Not only is it a gross invasion of privacy but results in each household receiving a substantial amount of unsolicited mail, with consequent damage to the environment.”

The cabinet member responsible, Cllr Troy Tester, said, “I would certainly agree that it is disgraceful that local councils are required by law to sell the edited version of the electoral register.”

Read more on Rye & Battle Observer. Apparently there may be a way to opt-out by ticking a checkbox on the form when registering, but from this side of the big puddle, it’s not clear to me how or why the government is forcing councils to sell the edited register at all.

  2 Responses to “Council goes on the defensive over sale of personal data”

  1. The part you’ve quoted explains in what way the government ‘forces’ councils to sell the edited register. It’s the law. It’s a requirement of the Representation of the People Act and Regulations. You can’t very well have an open and fair electoral system with a secret register of voters.

    The question is what, if any, restrictions should be placed on it. In 2001, there was a legal challenge to the Regulations allowing the sale of the complete electoral roll. The Regulations were found to be incompatible with data protection and human rights law. This resulted in the introduction of the current system, with a full, unedited register and an edited one. Organisations such as political parties and credit reference agencies get access to the full register, everyone else has to make do with the edited version. Of course, anyone who wants to can go to a council’s offices and inspect a copy of that council’s full register.

    The register is public information. What’s being restricted is what may be done with it, and that’s being achieved by restricting access to it.

  2. Thanks for explaining, Nicholas. While I understand the concept of public records and making certain records publicly available, I see a distinction between that and forcing or requiring the councils “to sell” the records. Over here, governments may be required to make certain records available and may charge a nominal fee for reproduction costs, but we wouldn’t phrase it that they are forced to “sell” the records (or at least I wouldn’t express it that way). So maybe it was the wording that threw me off, and I do thank you again for explaining.

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