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We’re all working on the assumption that Rishi Sunak will find the courage to call a General Election sometime this year. Political parties are keener than ever to speak directly to you – but they can’t get into your inbox or social media feed unless they can capture your personal data. With trust in political processes at an all-time low, being open, transparent and accountable about the use by political parties of your data is essential for a healthy democracy. But early indications show some political parties are riding roughshod over crucial data rights.
When political parties take your data, they start to build a psychological profile and put you into segments which try to capture your values, opinions and attitudes. They then use these segments – like “Worcester woman” or “Workington man” – to make campaigning messages that appeal to these broad stereotypes. Rather than dealing with the big strategic political issues of our time, they tap into our insecurities, using micro-targeted digital ads to campaign on fear rather than hope.
This approach distorts democracy. It’s the same playbook that allowed toxic, micro-targeted ads to go under the radar during the Brexit referendum.
This kind of campaigning undermines the idea that politics serves us all as a collective good. As we get closer to the General Election, we need to know how data is being used to shape our shared future. We need to be in control of the ways we’re profiled and targeted – and asked if we even want to be profiled and targeted at all. That’s why we are launching a broad campaign to protect voters’ data rights.
Our first challenge takes on an online tool launched by the Tories which claims to calculate the effect on an individual of recent changes to national insurance contributions. But it is a simple data-harvesting exercise.
There’s nothing wrong with parties collecting information about voters, but this “calculator” breaches data protection law. Our Executive Director, Jo Maugham, has taken the first formal step in legal proceedings against this flagrant breach.
Between now and the election we will be keeping an eye on how political parties are using your data – we have further actions already planned. We’ll be defending your data rights both through litigation and through reporting on bad practice. Anything you can give to support our work will help us shine a light on these shady campaigning schemes and put us all back in control of our democracy.
All funds raised will be used to support our work during the general election to protect and improve our democracy by protecting data rights, less 10% as a contribution to the general running costs of Good Law Project. Any surplus will go to develop and support further work we do to fight for a fairer future for all.
When your data is collected, organisations like political parties have legal duties under GDPR to be up front about what they are going to do with it and why that is justified. This attempt to gather data by the Tories does neither.
Article 13(1)(c) of the GDPR says that where your data is collected, the data controller needs to provide you with an explanation of what purpose it’s going to be used for and what the legal basis is for that processing (out of the six available bases, set out in GDPR Art 6(1)).
The Privacy Notice they provide makes vague, hypothetical statements about “how we commonly use your data” and what types of data they “might process”. But it doesn’t say what is really going to happen with the data collected from the calculator – how and why it will actually be used, and why that can be justified.
GDPR also requires that processing of data should be limited to the purposes which it was collected for and not further processed “in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes”. But because they don’t even say why they’re collecting it in the first place, it’s not clear where that line is – or whether this data will later be fed into their automatic profiling technology. We say they need to do better, and come clean about why they really want your information.
Article 5(1)(a) of the GDPR requires that processing of your data must be “fair” – and the ICO’s guidance for political parties and campaigns says “if anyone is deceived or misled when you obtained the personal data, then this is unlikely to be fair”.
The Tories’ website says, not once or twice but five separate times, that it’s about tax cuts: the heading invites you to “find out how much you’ll save”, it asks you to “put your salary in so we can calculate your tax cut”, and you submit that information by clicking a button labelled “find your tax cut”.
It gives you the option to receive emails about campaign updates – but no choice about whether the information you put in will be used internally by the party to help them campaign, whether you want it to or not.
We say that the way this calculator is set up to harvest voters’ personal data is dishonest and misleading, and the Conservative Party needs to fix this and comply with the law.
The website leaves cookies on your browser as soon as you access it – without notifying you or giving you a chance to say no. This is a clear breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (Regulation 6).
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Every single penny that we receive makes a huge difference to our ability to hold those in power to account and demand a better, fairer future.
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