Charities await fate in ICO data abuse investigations

charity dataCharities are bracing themselves for further sanctions from the Information Commissioner’s Office after the regulator confirmed its investigations into the sector’s abuse of donor data are still ongoing – over a year after they were launched.
Last summer, the ICO launched Operation Cinnabar, following Daily Mail claims that charities were exploiting loopholes in the Telephone Preference Service.
A second investigation, Operation Linden, followed weeks later after claims that data sharing among charities had led to one 87-year-old man’s personal details being sold or passed on by charities up to 200 times.
The ICO is still investigating claims that Samuel Rae, who has dementia, lost £35,000 after his information ended up with scammers.
While Operation Cinnabar has resulted in a number of charities signing agreements that have committed them to renewing their telephone fundraising consents every two years, many have yet to be investigated.
The charities implicated in Operation Linden were the PDSA, the RSPCA, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation (all pictured) and the Cancer Recovery Foundation. The ICO has blamed its limited resources for delays in the investigations and enforcement action.
Speaking at the Institute of Fundraising Convention earlier this month, Richard Marbrow, a senior policy officer in the government and society team at the ICO, said organisations could refuse to sign up to voluntary agreements, but this could result in the regulator taking enforcement action instead.
He said: “You won’t find undertakings anywhere in the Data Protection Act because they are essentially a voluntary way of us trying to be a proportionate regulator and not always slapping down massive fines,” he said. “It helps with the reputational damage caused by problems being found.”
Marbrow confirmed that some chairties would have to renew their consents for phone fundraising every year “because of the nature and the frequency of the contact”, whereas others might have to agree to do this only every three years.
He insisted that both investigations should be completed by September.
Earlier this week, five charities – Save the Children, Children’s Trust, Unicef UK, Action for Children and learning disability organisation Hft – were forced to suspend their contracts with a face-to-face agency following allegations that staff targeted elderly people with aggressive doorstep techniques.

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