December 09, 2019

Campaigners demand answers over parties use of personal data in General Election

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MONDAY 9 DECEMBER 2019

Directors, staff, and members of the Open Rights Group have demanded that the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives, and Labour cease the processing of their data and to have their profiled data created about them erased. The claimants are concerned that these political parties may have breached data protection law through their profiling activities.

Open Rights Group have written pre-action letters to the political parties laying out their concerns about the lawfulness of the processing that has been undertaken on their personal data. The claimants are seeking clarity on the use of their data.

These political parties had created individualised scores such as their age, whether they support Brexit, and their social status, such as “metropolitan elite” or “soft Tory”. This often but not exclusively relied upon third party data brokers such as Experian, a credit reference company. The parties have also been accused of failing to be transparent about who they have shared this data with, including political campaigning consultancies.

The legal action is a political and non partisan, although the facts differ in the case of each party.

The Labour Party, inter alia, provided scores based on individuals’ personal data that was unintelligible. They also failed to respond to their initial SARs within the statutory time limit.

The Conservative Party, inter alia, had been using personal names and addresses to guess the age of one claimant, without prior consent or a clear explanation of their legal justification.

The Liberal Democrats, inter alia, had failed to provide the sources of third party data used to profile those individuals that sent SARs.

At least two of the parties appear to have incorporated email addresses from local election registers. The claimants believe that the parties are not entitled to this data, obtained when people use online voter registration tools. It is unclear how many authorities have given personal emails of residents to political parties.

Pascal Crowe, Data and Democracy Project Officer, Open Rights Group said:

The abuse of personal data is now a systemic issue in our politics. No one comes out of this well.

We are concerned about the lawfulness of these activities and have put these concerns to the parties. Further, we are concerned what this means for democracy. Faith in democratic outcomes rests on a shared democratic process and profiling voters to create micro-targeted audiences undermines that.

It’s use is even more baffling given that we often don’t recognise our profiles. They are not even profiling accurately. But political parties are seemingly unquestioning of the authority of numbers.

These techniques should not be used to determine political activity and engagement. They are dishonest, inaccurate, and anti-democratic.

Ravi Naik, Partner, ITN Solicitors representing the claimants from Open Rights Group said:

Political parties must be accountable for their use of data.Our clients requested their information from the Parties and were presented with unclear and incomplete responses. We have therefore written to the parties, outlining our clients concerns about the use of their data. This includes a challenge to the legality of the wider processing activities.

Parties seem to consider themselves as having a free pass to do as they want with personal data as they consider this in the demoratic interest. However, the data protection regime exists to limit data use to prevent abuses. The democratic interest is best served by all Parties respecting the law.

Notes to editors
Pre Action letters have been sent to the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party raising questions about their processing activities.

The activities were revealed through subject access requests (SARs) to the political parties.

Open Rights Group have developed a tool that allows for members of the public to exercise their right of subject access: https://action.openrightsgroup.org/who-do-political-parties-think-we-are-4

For further information please contact Federica Dadone, Communication Officer for Open Rights Group, at press@openrightsgroup.org or 0207 0961079.

ENDS