The DPA of the United Kingdom sent a letter to political parties in light of the 12 December 2019 General Election to remind them that “People expect their personal information to be used in line with law, and where that doesn’t happen in digital campaigning, there’s a danger that public trust and confidence in the broader democracy process is damaged.” A ‘Be Data Aware’ campaign was also updated with the objective of informing individuals of their information rights with respect to use by political parties. The letter mentioned the “ICO’s investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes found a number of concerns relating to the use of commercial behavioural advertising techniques and the lack of transparency of profiling during recent political campaigns.” In particular, the ICO reminded the parties of 5 requirements which include: that data protection and electronic marketing laws apply; that parties should “provide individuals with clear and accessible information about how [they] are using their personal data including inferred data” which includes “data obtained directly from individuals and that which is obtained from third parties, including data brokers. Additionally, individuals must be made aware of how their personal data is shared with social media platforms for the purposes of targeted political advertising.” Parties should, furthermore, be in the position to demonstrate their compliance with the law and that of any third party which processes data on behalf of the party (e.g. including data analytics providers and online campaigning platforms). Parties should “be able to provide a fully auditable record of how the personal data has been obtained and is being processed” and ensure that records of consent are obtained. Finally, parties should identify the lawful bases they use to process special category data which include political opinions and ethnicity.
In light of the ongoing ICO investigation into the misuse of personal data in the context of political campaigns and the increasing role that technology is playing in the democratic process, it is interesting to see the ICO directly address political parties in such a straight forward way with respect to their campaigning.