Many of the UK’s major brands could be unwittingly using illegal data to fuel their direct marketing campaigns after it was revealed that up to 90 local authorities have been selling on opted-out Electoral Roll information.
The cock-up, which has affected as many as one-in-four councils in England and Wales, has been reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office. However, instead of launching its own investigation, the ICO has asked councils that may have been affected by to come forward.
Three councils in Wales – Rhondda Cynon Taf, Torfaen and Caerphilly – and Wokingham Council in Berkshire are the only ones that have so far admitted to the gaffe.
The Daily Mail newspaper has claimed that Reading-based software company Idox is responsible for the mistake, which has seen the details of those who ticked the opt-out box passed on to third-party companies.
Although most companies rarely rely solely on ER data, it is an essential tool for charities and many data firms which supply major brands use the information for verification purposes.
A spokesman for the ICO told the Daily Mail: “The full version of the ER should only be used for elections, preventing and detecting crime and checking applications for credit. Any suggestion that it has been made available for other purposes raises clear data protection concerns.
“We are aware that a number of councils have reported that a software error has resulted in the full ER being made available more widely than it should have been. We are currently making enquiries into these potential data breaches.”
The opt-out box was first introduced just over a decade ago after retired accountant Brian Robertson won a High Court case after objecting to ER’s use for marketing purposes. He successfully claimed that the resultant “junk mail” was an unjustified interference in his private and family life.
Last year, privacy group Big Brother Watch demanded that councils should even be banned from selling the edited ER, after releasing figures which showed more than 300 local authorities sold it to more than 2,700 private companies and individuals. It claimed the sale undermined trust in the electoral system.
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