Information Commissioner finds Conservative call centre breached rules during general election

An update on the Conservative Party telephone call centre in Neath, Wales which Channel 4 ran an expose about earlier this year. The police investigation is still continuing, but the Information Commissioner’s investigation has now concluded:

An undercover Channel 4 News investigation raised concerns about the campaign involving calls made by Blue Telecoms, a firm in Neath, South Wales, on behalf of the Conservative Party.

These concerns prompted an ICO [Information Commissionier’s Office] investigation into the campaign’s compliance with data protection and electronic marketing law.

We’ve found that two small sections of the written scripts used by those making the calls crossed the line from legitimate market research to unlawful direct marketing. We’ve warned the Conservative Party to get it right next time.

The issue is that the law governing marketing calls is stricter than the law governing market research calls. What the Conservatives did was follow the laws on market research but then used call scripts when went further than this and included direct marketing:

As part of our investigation, we studied scripts and call recordings and were satisfied that, in general, the questions reflected a valid market research campaign.

But we did have concerns about two sections which we believe fell outside the bounds of market research. These paragraphs referenced both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in relation to policy choices.

We’ve stopped short of formal regulatory action because the overall campaign was genuine market research. The two sections we had concerns about were not enough to trigger formal enforcement action when considered along with the campaign as a whole. In addition, the results of the survey were not saved against any individual so they could not be targeted for future marketing.

But we have been clear about what we expect in the future.

We’ve warned the party that its campaigns must be rigorously checked for questions that fall outside the bounds of market research.

One response to “Information Commissioner finds Conservative call centre breached rules during general election”

  1. The Information Commission ruling on Conservative party behaviour during the 2017 general election campaign did not amount to more than a minor infraction, but there have been several features of recent elections which raise questions about the meaning and effectiveness of democracy.
    1) what the IT industry blandly calls “big data” and “BI” (business intelligence) allows groups such as Cambridge Analytics to distill information from the increasing stock of online data in order to feed propaganda to the parts of an electorate most willing to accept it.
    2) the ability of the press to print audacious disinformation on page 1 then retract it later in a footnote on another page has been enhanced by real-time Web media…which don’t even need to publish a retraction. Witness the infamous 350m pound bus story.
    3) also a feature of Web social media are “bots”, semi autonomous programs which can propagate “memes” widely and rapidly while appearing to be real people, distorting perception of what is popular opinion.
    4) the EC referendum result was grabbed by the government as a basis for policies far more complex than the balloted question, even though the numeric support was only a third of the population.
    5) the diaspora of people taking advantage of free movement within the EC has left most of them effectively disenfranchised in their home countries.
    6) the BBC, internationally respected for balanced and objective reporting, is subject to political pressure domestically, particularly in the run up to its periodic license renewal process. This has been especially apparent in the minimalist coverage of popular demonstrations in Ulster, Scotland and more recently in anti-Brexit manifestations throughout the UK.
    7) despite the clear refusal of the British electorate to grant the government a clear mandate to proceed with their policies, by redirecting public funds to an unpopular minority party, they can still proceed, quite legally.
    All of this allows an increasingly unpopular government to implement far reaching policies to the detriment of many if not most British people, and damages the established norms of representative democracy, probably permanently.

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