Nine points EU referendum campaign groups should remember if they don’t want to break the rules

By Judith Jones, Group Manager.

EU-referendum-bWith reports suggesting the UK could go to the polls this year for the EU referendum, campaign groups are already starting to mobilise support.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) therefore wants to remind campaigning groups and political parties that they must comply with data protection and electronic marketing rules in the lead up to the referendum.

Contacting an individual by text, phone call, email or fax to promote a political view in order to gain support at the ballot box is “direct marketing” and this is regulated by law.

Communicating with voters is vital to the health of our democracy but if a party or organisation fails to comply with the law they may face enforcement action from the ICO as well as reputational damage to their campaign.

That’s what happened when we took enforcement action against the Better Together campaign during the Scottish independence referendum. In that case Better Together agreed to sign an undertaking after contracting a third-party to send 300,000 text messages to individuals without adequately checking whether they had consented to being contacted.

In the run up to the referendum, we’d like to remind campaigning organisations of these nine key points from our published guidance:

  1. Only send marketing emails and texts to individuals who have consented to contact of that sort from your organisation.
  2. Don’t phone individuals if there are grounds for believing they would not want your organisation to contact them, such as being registered with the Telephone Preference Service.
  3. Only make automated phone calls to individuals who have consented to receiving automated calls from your organisation.
  4. Identify your organisation in any communication and provide contact details to allow individuals to easily opt out of unwanted direct marketing.
  5. When collecting information from individuals make sure you include clear and prominent privacy notices. These should tell people who you are and what you are going to do with their information.
  6. If you are compiling databases of supporters and potential supporters, you must ensure you treat individuals fairly, including only processing personal data in a way that an individual would expect.
  7. Make sure you screen any lists of people’s contact details you’ve bought in for valid consent.
  8. You should carefully design any viral marketing processes to ensure that they comply with the consent requirements of the law and assess the risk of distress that can come from misuse.
  9. Any new groups formed to campaign in relation to the EU referendum must register with the ICO if they are processing personal data. Information about registering with the ICO can be found on our website ico.org.uk.

Any consent must be clear, informed and freely given. More information about this, and how to comply with the electronic marketing and data protection rules, can be found in the ICO’s Guidance on Political Campaigning.

Political parties and campaign organisations will be under intense media and public scrutiny in the period leading up to the EU referendum. We advise them to consult our guidance or contact us for further advice in the first instance, rather than risk a complaint from disgruntled voters..

Last updated 06/01/2016 12:20

judith-jones-2016Judith Jones is Group Manager responsible for developing and managing relations with government departments and organisations in the Strategic Liaison Division of the ICO.
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