Jun 15, 2021 | Blog

Tories fined for Breach of the PECR

Howard Freeman

Howard Freeman

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The Conservative party has been fined £10,000 for a breach of the PECR, the ICO announced today. The fine is for sending 51 marketing emails to people who did not want to receive them.

The fine follows an ICO investigation relating to emails sent from the Conservative Party. The mails were sent on behalf of Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP. The incident occurred over the eight days in July 2019 following his election as Prime Minister. The emails were addressed the recipients by name and promoted the party’s political priorities. The last sentence included a link directing them to a website for joining the Conservative Party.

Tories fined £10,000
The emails were addressed the recipients by name and promoted the party’s political priorities.

Stephen Eckersley, ICO Director of Investigations, said:

“The public have rights regarding how their personal data is used. Getting messages to potential voters is important in a healthy democracy. However, political parties must follow the law when doing so. The Conservative Party ought to have known this, but failed to comply with the law. This applies to all organisations, be they political parties, businesses or others. They should give people clear information and choices about the use of their personal data. Direct marketing laws are clear and it is the responsibility of all organisations to ensure they comply. “The sending of nuisance marketing emails is a real concern to the public. The ICO will continue to take action where we find behaviour that puts people’s information rights at risk.”

Record keeping

The ICO found the Conservative Party failed to retain clear records of the basis upon which people had consented to receive marketing emails, as required by law. In the last week of July 2019, the party sent 1,190,280 emails for marketing purposes. However, the ICO concedes that some of these emails were sent lawfully, but was unable to identify what the proportion actually was.

The ICO did conclude that the Conservatives did not have proper consent for 51 of the emails following complaints to the regulator.

It seems that the party was using an email marketing package. The package correctly recorded the unsubscribe requests. However, when extracting data in preparation for uploading into the new system, the unsubscribe inforamtion was lost. The definition of direct marketing is any communication of advertising or marketing material directed at particular individuals. This incident was easily avoided had an Unsubscribe Register been kept. This suggests poor information governance at the party.

Unless consent has been freely given, it is illegal to send marketing emails to people . This is stated in Regulation 22 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR).

Industrial Scale Marketing

During the investigation, the ICO revealed that the Conservatives ran a huge marketing email exercise. This was part of the campaign for the December 2019 General Election. A further 95 complaints were received by the ICO, as result of this activity. This was a further breach of the PECR.

However, the fine is very low considering the potential scope of the breach. The ICO has the power to impose fines of £500,000 undertake PECR. On this s occasion it chose to impose a very small fine which would barely dent the party’s coffers. How can this be a true deterrent to businesses?

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Howard Freeman

Howard Freeman