Boris Johnson emails: Conservative Party investigated over unsolicited personal messages

Complainants say they had not consented to receive messages from new prime minister and do not know how their details were obtained

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 26 July 2019 18:08
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The Conservative Party is facing an inquiry by the UK’s data protection watchdog after members of the public complained that they had received unsolicited emails from Boris Johnson asking for support and donations, The Independent has learnt.

The message was cast as a personal letter, addressed to individuals by their first names and signed: “Yours sincerely, Boris Johnson, prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party”.

Under data laws, parties can only send electronic mailshot messages to individuals who have consented to receive such material.

But it is understood that a number of individuals have told the Information Commissioner’s Office that they were not aware of ever having given their permission to the party to contact them.

An ICO spokesperson told The Independent: “We have received a number of complaints concerning an allegedly unsolicited email communication from the Conservative Party and will be making enquiries.”

Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, is already looking into allegations of unsolicited emails from the Back Boris campaign during the battle for the Tory leadership.

The most recent messages emerged shortly after the arrival in Downing Street of Mr Johnson’s new senior adviser Dominic Cummings, who masterminded the use of targeted messaging to Facebook users during the EU referendum in 2016. There is no suggestion that he had any involvement with the emails.

One recipient told The Independent she had received two emails, on Wednesday and Thursday, despite never having received communications from the Conservatives before.

The first set out “my plan for delivering Brexit and changing Britain”, while the second also included a plea for donations to help defeat Jeremy Corbyn in the next general election. Both had Mr Johnson’s signature at the bottom.

The woman – who asked not to be identified – said: “I was quite shocked because I have no sympathy for Boris Johnson’s politics at all. It made me quite cross.

“I have no recollection of ever having given the Conservatives permission to contact me and I don’t know how they got my email address. I think I signed a petition once that they were involved in, but it wouldn’t be in my DNA to sign up to anything from the Conservative Party.”

The opening of the email which sparked complaints

Under the Data Protection Act, individuals have an absolute right to object to marketing from any organisation as well as the processing of their information for direct messaging.

Since May 2018, individuals have had to give their positive consent to receive marketing from any organisation, for instance by ticking a box on a website. It is no longer permitted for organisations to present the box pre-ticked and require individuals to uncheck it if they do not wish to be contacted.

However, a candidate, political party or referendum campaigner does have a right to send a freepost mailing to voters.

The Independent has contacted the Conservative Party for comment.

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