The Daily Telegraph has been fined £30,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after it sent hundreds of thousands of emails on the day of the general election urging readers to vote Conservative.
The ICO found that Telegraph Media Group broke direct marketing rules when it issued the letter from Chris Evans, Daily Telegraph editor, which was attached to the paper’s usual morning e-bulletin.
Subscribers had signed up to receive a daily e-bulletin, but by promoting an election campaign, the paper broke the rules around direct marketing.
The ICO found that none of the subscribers had given specific consent to receive that kind of marketing, a requirement under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.
Steve Eckersley, ICO head of enforcement, said the paper had been negligent when it decided to send the campaign letter as part of the legitimate daily email.
He said: “People may well perceive the paper’s editorial content to have a political bias, but when The Telegraph emailed people directly, calling for them to vote for a political party, they crossed a line.”
In his letter, Mr Evans described the May 7 general election as the “most important since 1979.” He wrote: “The Daily Telegraph urges its readers to vote Conservative.”
Mr Eckersley said: “People signed up to The Telegraph’s email service so they could catch up on the news or find out about subjects they were interested in. They did not expect to be told who they should be voting for.”
The ICO accepted that Mr Evans’ letter was only added to the usual mailing after a last-minute instruction from the editorial team. Pressure to distribute it quickly meant there was not enough time to properly consider whether the appropriate permissions were in place.
These circumstances, along with the small number of complaints (17), were factors when deciding the £30,000 fine, imposed on the Telegraph’s parent company.
Mr Eckersley said: “Regardless of the circumstances, this organisation fell short of the law and we have acted.”
The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, which sit alongside the Data Protection Act, give people specific privacy rights in relation to electronic communications. There are specific rules protecting consumers over marketing calls, emails, texts and faxes.
The financial penalty will be paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
A Telegraph Media Group spokesperson said: "Although we are disappointed with this ruling, we note the mitigating factors that the ICO highlights in its report: the response to the email was overwhelmingly positive, and the ICO agreed in its ruling that it was unlikely to cause distress.
"Indeed, only 2 complaints were received by the ICO. The ruling also recognises that we fully co-operated with the ICO and that we have taken steps to make sure this should not happen again."
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