Information Commissioner turns up the heat on political campaign firms

Posted on: November 7th, 2018

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) yesterday published its report to Parliament on the ICO’s investigation into the use of data analytics in political campaigns.

What has happened?

The ICO found a “disturbing disregard for voters’ personal privacy by players across the political campaigning eco-system — from data companies and data brokers to social media platforms, campaign groups and political parties”.

The report outlines the ICO’s enforcement action in this area to date. Notably, the ICO has today issued a notice of intent to fine both Leave.EU, the pro-Brexit campaign organisation, and Eldon Insurance (trading as GoSkippy) £60,000 each for breaching laws that govern electronic marketing (the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations or ‘PECR’).

The ICO also issued a notice of intent to fine Leave.EU £15,000 for a separate breach of the PECR after almost 300,000 emails were sent to Eldon Insurance customers containing a Leave.EU newsletter. Leave.EU and Eldon Insurance were founded by Arron Banks, the prominent Brexit campaigner. Mr Banks is reportedly being investigated by the National Crime Agency (NCA). The NCA is looking into the source of Leave.EU donations.

Already this year, the ICO has fined Facebook £500,000 (the maximum amount that can be levied under the Data Protection Act 1998) and has investigated the relationship between Facebook, AggregateIQ, and Cambridge Analytica and their respective roles during the Brexit campaign.

What does this all mean and why is it important?

The increased prominence and activity of the ICO is recognition of the importance and elevated profile of privacy and data protection in the public sphere. It shows that the ICO is taking its enforcement action seriously and that breaches of privacy and data protection regulations will not go unpunished.

It’s also an acknowledgement of the impact that sophisticated profiling, algorithms and analytics can have on the democratic process when used to influence voters. The issue, if not appropriately addressed, could have serious implications for the functioning of democracy in the U.K. That is why one of the key recommendations arising from the report is that the Government introduce a statutory code of practice for the use of personal data in political campaigns.


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