Political parties urged to come clean on data sources

big-ben2The General Election campaign has barely got off the ground but a raft of privacy groups are already demanding that main UK political parties come clean about how they are using voters’ personal data – and where they are sourcing it – in their electioneering.

Privacy International, Open Rights Group, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Fair Vote, Who Targets Me? and Demos have today written to all the main parties, demanding, among other things, that they reveal where they are sourcing their data to target voters.

The move follows media reports that the Labour Party has already built a “fearsome data targeting machine” using Experian data that will power its election campaign.

The privacy groups claim that Twitter’s ban on political advertising “is just the latest wake up call to politicians about the risks to democracy of personal data driven microtargeting of political messages”.

The Conservatives, Labour, The Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and others, have all been given “10 concrete steps” they should take, to ensure transparency and compliance with the law.

These include publishing how they source voters’ personal data; publishing information on the companies they contract with as part of their campaigns; and ensuring political messages, the organisation behind them, and the targeting criteria for them are easily recognisable to the public.

The letter states: “Large platforms, together with the vast ‘influence industry’ from data brokers, to ad tech, to the providers of campaign tools and services have much to answer for. We are also concerned that political campaigns are abusing the architecture of the Internet to obscure the true extent of financial and informal relationships between campaigns, thus gaming the regulatory framework.

“Political parties must shoulder some responsibility for this and take steps to demonstrate a commitment to respecting people’s rights and the democratic process. Transparency, fairness and accountability are core tenants of protecting people’s data and electoral integrity. Failure to act risks political manipulation and undermines the efforts to rein in the power of big companies in this field. A starting point would be to provide the above information on your party’s website.”

Privacy International legal officer Ailidh Callander said: “The integrity of our democracy and voter trust is at stake. Our political parties need to reflect on their own practices, reflect on public concern, and reflect on why Twitter has taken the step to ban political advertising altogether.

“Our elections can’t be built on politicians exploiting our personal data. It’s a race to the bottom. We are demanding that political parties in the UK stand up for democracy by coming clean about their use of voters’ personal data, publicly committing to total transparency, and complying with data protection law.”

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