Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has hit back at claims that her office has misinterpreted data protection law in its crackdown on the charity sector, effectively telling fundraisers to get over it and commit to positive change.
Speaking at an event in Manchester organised by the ICO, the Charity Commission and the Fundraising Regulator, Denham said: “You can cling to the belief that we’ve got the law wrong or that it doesn’t apply to your sector or that the regulatory burden is too great. Or you can commit to positive change. Change that, in my view, is not only achievable but will reap its own rewards.”
Denham appeared to dismiss fears that practices such as wealth screening and data matching were illegal, saying that it was the way charities had carried out the activity which breached the Data Protection Act.
She said: “Let me be clear. It’s not that the activity is against the law but failing to properly and clearly tell your donors that you’re going to do it.”
Denham insisted the ICO’s investigations had uncovered “serious contraventions of the Data Protection Act” that “undermined the fundamental right to privacy of millions of donors”.
“It’s hard to imagine, for example, a circumstance where searching out phone numbers or addresses that have not been shared could be fair,” she added. “Wealth screening, at least how we have seen it being done, is not fair either.”
However, Denham reckoned it is time for the sector to move on. “I want to draw a line under these investigations and move forward.”
While acknowledging that it was a tough time to be a fundraiser, Denham insisted: “It simply obliges you to do it in such a way that respects the fundamental privacy rights of each and every one of your donors, your supporters and your volunteers.”
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