Feb 092010
 
 February 9, 2010  Breaches, Non-U.S.

Francis Elliott reports:

Cold calls by Labour which urged half a million people to vote in a recorded message breached privacy rules, the information watchdog ruled today.

The party targeted 495,000 people despite previously agreeing not to use unsolicited, automated phone calls in its campaign.

Householders receiving the calls heard a message recorded by Liz Dawn, who plays Vera Duckworth in Coronation Street, urging them to vote in the local and European elections last June.

Read more on Times Online.

A statement from the Information Commissioner’s Office reads:

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has served an enforcement notice on the Labour Party after it breached the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). The enforcement action, by the UK privacy watchdog, follows an investigation which revealed that the party had made unsolicited automated marketing calls without consent to almost half a million individuals.

In July 2007 the ICO received a complaint from a member of the public that he had received an automated marketing telephone call from the Labour Party despite never consenting to receive such calls. The call allegedly consisted of a recorded message from the actress Liz Dawn. After reviewing the transcript, the ICO advised the Labour party that it would constitute direct marketing; Labour subsequently agreed to stop making any calls using the Liz Dawn script or anything similar.

However, in June 2009 the ICO received further complaints. The Scottish National Party and a member of the public reported that unsolicited automated calls, consisting of a recorded message from Liz Dawn, had been made encouraging recipients to vote in the local and European elections. The Labour Party confirmed that the calls were made to approximately 495,000 recipients, in what were believed to be Labour supporting areas, and that the majority of numbers were obtained using commercially purchased lists.

David Smith, Deputy Commissioner at the ICO, said: “The ICO has consistently made clear that the promotion of a political party counts as marketing. We have previously issued detailed guidance to all major political parties on this subject. The Labour Party has breached privacy rules by making automated marketing calls to individuals who have not consented to receiving such calls. The fact that the calls were targeted at what were believed to be Labour supporting areas confirmed our view that they were designed to promote the Labour Party’s electoral cause by encouraging Labour supporters to vote. Automated calls can cause annoyance and disruption which is why it is so important for organisations making such calls to gain the consent of individuals.”

The enforcement notice requires Labour to ensure no further automated direct marketing calls are made without consent. Failure to comply with the enforcement notice is a criminal offence and could lead to prosecution. The Labour Party have a right to appeal within 28 days.

In 2005 the ICO issued updated guidance to political parties about their obligations under the Data Protection Act and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. However, in 2005 the ICO served enforcement notices against the Conservative Party and the Scottish National Party, and in 2008 the ICO served an enforcement notice against the Liberal Democrats. The parties had breached the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations by making unsolicited automated marketing phone calls to members of the public who had not given their consent to receive them.

A full copy of the enforcement notice can be downloaded here:
http://www.ico.gov.uk/what_we_cover/privacy_and_electronic_communications/enforcement.aspx

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