Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s alleged love affair with the Daily Mail Group appears to have ended abruptly after the newspaper wrongly reported the new Direct Marketing Code of Practice would prevent GP surgeries from issuing coronavirus warnings.
Under the longest-ever headline – “Doctors will be banned from sending unsolicited coronavirus warnings to patients under EU rules still set to become law in the UK despite Brexit” – the Mail on Sunday claims that “public bodies face being fined up to £17 million by Brussels if they send unsolicited messages by text or email – even as part of a public health campaign”.
It goes on: “The plan has caused fury in Downing Street because of the role of UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who is working to put EU data protection laws into a statutory code that the Government would have no power to amend.”
The crux of the report is that, under the new DM code, GPs would be banned from sending text messages to patients and even Council Tax bills will rise because local authorities will be forced to print leaflets to publicise services such as bin collections rather than send them electronically.
However, these issues are already covered by the existing Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) – that have been UK law since 2003 – and are not classified as marketing communications anyway.
The Mail on Sunday even quotes “one senior Government source” – code for either Dominic Cummings or one of his sidekicks – who branded Denham an “unelected anti-Brexit pen-pusher” [much like Cummings and his team in fact].
The article concludes by quoting an ICO spokesperson who states: “[We are] currently consulting on the development of the statutory direct marketing code, as required by UK data protection law.
“The law or the code do not prevent the sending of public health alerts which are vital to the management of health risks and incidents like the coronavirus.”
One industry source said: “This story has every Daily Mail element in one. Its first nemesis of direct marketing – even though it does more DM than most; its second nemesis of Brussels; and its third of nemesis of Remainers. Frankly, I am surprised they didn’t manage to get an immigrant in there, too. There is a serious issue, however, and that is that this sort of misinformation is dangerous. Will anyone expose them? Unlikely.”
The report is a far cry from Denham’s previous dealings with the Daily Mail Group. Back in 2017, at the height of the charity sector outrage, the ICO was accused of leaking an adjudication against the British Heart Foundation and the RSCPCA to the Daily Mail.
The regulator could not explain how the ruling had appeared in the paper 48 hours before its official release, and denied any wrongdoing.
However, both BHF head of legal services Richard Macmillan and charity marketing specialist Stephen Pidgeon slammed the way the ICO had handled the case, accusing Denham of sucking up to the media.
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