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Privacy Campaigners Demand Answers Over General Election Data Profiling

Ross Kelly

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2019 General Election

The Open Rights Group has described voter profiling techniques as “dishonest, inaccurate and anti-democratic”.

Privacy campaigners have called on three British political parties to cease the processing of citizen data and demanded that profiled data be erased.

Ahead of the 2019 general election, the Open Rights Group voiced concerns that the Labour Party, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats may have breached data protection legislation through voter profiling activities.

Pre-action letters were sent to the political parties questioning whether the processing of personal data has been lawful. The claimants, which include directors, staff and members of the Open Rights Group, said they are “seeking clarity” on the use of their data.

Following subject access requests to the parties, campaigners revealed that individualised scores on voters had been created to build a profile of the individual.

These scores included details on a persons age and whether they support Brexit. Scores were also based on an individual’s social status, with terms such as “metropolitan elite” or “soft Tory” given to some.

Much of this profiling, the Open Rights Group claimed, has been reliant on third-party data brokers like Experian, a credit reference agency.

Similarly, the campaign group also accused the parties of failing to be transparent over who they have shared this data with, including political campaigning consultancies.

Pascal Crowe, data and democracy project officer at the Open Rights Group, described the techniques as “dishonest” in the run-up to the historic 2019 general election.

He said: “The abuse of personal data is now a systemic issue in our politics. No one comes out of this well. We are concerned about the lawfulness of these activities and have put these concerns to the parties. Further, we are concerned about what this means for democracy.

“Faith in democratic outcomes rests on a shared democratic process and profiling voters to create micro-targeted audiences undermines that.”

Subject access requests by the ORG found that the Conservative Party had been using personal information, including names and addresses, to “guess the age” of one particular claimant without prior consent or explanation.

Additionally, Labour built scores based on individuals’ data that was largely unintelligible while the Lib Dems failed to provide the sources of third-party data used to profile people.

ORG noted that Labour had also failed to respond to its subject access requests within the statutory time limit.

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Ravi Naik, partner at ITN Solicitors which is representing the ORG claimants, commented: “Political parties must be accountable for their use of data. Our clients requested their information from the parties and were presented with unclear and incomplete responses.

“We have, therefore, written to the parties, outlining our clients’ concerns about the use of there data. This includes a challenge to the legality of the wider processing activities.”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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