Mark Leftly: The Tories' handling of data protection undermines a key UK industry

Westminster Outlook The Tories were not happy with Jane Frost. In March, they said she had made "unfounded and baseless accusations regarding ethics" in an article in our Sunday sister title. These accusations were about the integrity of Conservative Party research, an issue that was overlooked in the build-up to yesterday's local and European elections.

What Ms Frost highlighted was an important example of how party political behaviour can foster negative perceptions of entire sectors of the UK economy.

Ms Frost heads the Market Research Society, a professional body that enforces ethical research standards. It has member companies in more than 60 countries.

With those stats in mind, you would have thought that the Conservatives' chairman, Grant Shapps, would have treated Ms Frost's concerns that the party had breached data protection laws with a little respect. She was ignored.

In two letters to Mr Shapps, Ms Frost argued that "What matters most to you?", an online survey conducted for the Conservative Party, was published "under the guise of research but is in effect being used as a means to build marketing or contact databases". Respondents rated what they thought were the three most important issues facing the country – but were also asked for their email addresses.

Ms Frost then complained to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which is the data privacy watchdog. This was bad news for Mr Shapps given that he was already under fire for the condescending post-Budget advert that stated "they" – presumably the working class – would enjoy tax cuts on beer and bingo.

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, decided against the Conservatives. The ICO said: "In our view the survey's wording did not state clearly and explicitly that by providing an email address the individual was consenting to the use of their email details in any current and future campaigns."

These surveys are crucial information-gathering exercises for parties as they develop policies and target voters. For fairness, it should be pointed out that the ICO accepted some of the Conservatives' defence, such as the survey being voluntary.

But, as Ms Frost pointed out in a recent letter to the 12 biggest parties, research is a sector worth £3bn to the economy – about one-third of which is in exports. Politicians should not undermine an industry that has faced necessary but painful overhauls since the 1998 Data Protection Act due to their own shoddy standards.

Mr Graham also contacted major parties earlier this month, warning them: "The rules apply to political parties, just as they do to businesses and charities. In communicating with voters, the parties need to be clear about what their intentions are and why they are asking people for their information. We don't need election campaigns featuring nuisance calls, spam texts and canvassing under the guise of 'research'."

Politicians legislated to make sure businesses don't get away with poor standards on data protection – and they shouldn't be exempt from the rules themselves.

The ICO hit the Tories with little more than a slap on the wrist as the party eventually changed the wording of the survey, with a clearer link to privacy policy. Those changes are an admission that the standards applied to the survey were lax.

Mr Shapps owes Ms Frost an apology.

twitter.com/@mleftly

Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Test Lead - Financial Reporting - Banking - London

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Banking, Financial Reporting, ...

Business Analyst, Retail Bank, £375-400p/d

£375 - £400 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

PMO Analyst - London - Banking - £350 - £400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: PMO Analyst - Banking - London - £350 -£400 per d...

Cost Reporting-MI Packs-Edinburgh-Bank-£350/day

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Cost Reporting Manager - MI Packs -...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game