Privacy International asks major UK political parties to commit to not using legal loophole to target voters in forthcoming elections

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Today, as the Data Protection Bill reaches its final stages, Privacy International has written to the leaders of the main UK political parties asking for public commitment to not use the exemption provided in the Bill to target voters - both online and offline - in all local and national forthcoming elections or by-elections.

Privacy International has long been concerned about the exploitation of peoples’ data and the opaque data ecosystem, and the impact of such practices on the democratic system.

As luck would have it, politicians also appear to now be concerned. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, politicians have voiced vehement concerns about the exploitation of people's personal data by Facebook and political advertisers.

For example, Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP stated “I have said that the wild west of digital companies that flout rules and think that the best thing to do is move fast and break things, without thought for the impact on democracy and society, is over”.

Liam Byrne MP stated, when writing about Cambridge Analytica, “Ultimately, as in any battle, our values and traditions are at stake. Our democracy and our traditions of free speech are priceless. Let’s make sure we’ve got the laws to defend them."

Brendan O’Hara MP stated  “… the days of the unregulated, self-policing, digital Wild-West, wherein giant tech companies and shadowy political organisations can harvest, manipulate, trade in and profit from the personal data of millions of innocent, unsuspecting people, could be coming to an end”.

And finally, Ed Davey MP has stated publicly that the Cambridge Analytica revelations and subsequent allegations regarding its services to Leave campaigns, threaten the very foundations of democracy.

The revelations regarding misuse of data by Cambridge Analytica, facilitated by Facebook, have shown that our concerns are justified. And Cambridge Analytica is not alone. The use of people's personal data must be strictly regulated, particularly in the political arena. Personal data that might not have previously revealed political opinions - such as what a person's Facebook 'likes' are - can now be used to infer information about a person's political opinions. This can lead to political manipulation and risks undermining the democratic process.

In light of the above  parties’ public statements, it is unfortunate that parliamentarians have failed to support the deletion of the wide exemption in the Data Protection Bill, which may allow political parties to process personal data 'revealing political opinions'. But there is still an opportunity for parties' leaders to demonstrate their concerns are more than just words. 

Privacy International calls on all political parties in the UK to publicly committent to not using the exemption provided in the Bill to target voters - both online and offline - in all local and national forthcoming elections or by-elections.

 

Note for editors

Throughout all the stages of the Data Protection Bill Privacy International has urged parliamentarians to delete the wide exemption, open to abuse, in the Bill to allow political parties to process personal data ‘revealing political opinions’ for the purposes of their political activities.  To no avail – this provision stays in the Bill .

Further reading

What Zuckerberg Forgot To Mention... Profiling: https://privacyinternational.org/explainer/1737/what-zuckerberg-forgot-mention-profiling

More about the use of data in elections: https://privacyinternational.org/topics/data-and-elections

What is data exploitation 101 video: https://privacyinternational.org/video/1626/video-what-data-exploitation