Information Commissioner launches inquiry into misuse of personal data by political campaigns

The Government's personal data tsar said there were privacy risks

Jon Stone
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 17 May 2017 16:41 BST
Personal data is increasingly being used by political campaigns
Personal data is increasingly being used by political campaigns (EPA)

The Information Commissioner has launched a formal inquiry into political parties’ use of data analytics to target voters amid concerns that Britons’ privacy could be put at risk by new campaign tactics.

Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, warned there were “data protection risks” from politicians increasingly using voters’ personal data and that campaigning tools were having “a significant potential impact on individuals’ privacy”.

The announcement comes days after the Electoral Commission warned that new social media technologies were allowing “quick and low cost communications at scale” not seen before in election campaigns.

The Independent reported on Tuesday that outdated election rules were allowing parties to use targeted Facebook adverts, driven by such personal data, to funnel huge amounts of cash into marginal seats and bypass local spending checks.

The Information Commissioner’s inquiry comes after the Electoral Commission itself has said it will review the rules around election financing after the election, in light of the increased scale of targeting.

“Engagement with the electorate is vital to the democratic process. Given the big data revolution it is understandable that political campaigns are exploring the potential of advanced data analysis tools to help win votes,” the Information Commissioner Ms Denham said.

“The public have the right to expect that this takes place in accordance with the law as it relates to data protection and electronic marketing.”

She added that the issue was “complex and rapidly evolving” and urged political parties of “the need to comply with the law” during their campaigning.

Party data was a major issue at the 2016 US presidential election after one firm, Cambridge Analytica, claimed to have collected up to 5,000 items of data on over 220 million American voters.

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