ICO guidance aims to promote ‘trust and transparency’ in use of data for political campaigns

Regulator says new advice is particularly relevant as pandemic may impact campaigning ahead of May local polls

Credit: Hannah McKay/PA Archive/PA Images

The Information Commissioner’s Office has published new guidance on the use of personal data in political campaigning.

This comes ahead of elections in Scotland, Wales and England in May. The guidance has been updated to reflect changes in legislation as well as new technologies and campaigning methods.

Campaigners will have to comply with UK GDPR, which has replaced the EU’s GDPR as the UK’s data protection legislation, as well as the Data Protection Act 2018 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations.

The new guidance covers the full lifecycle of a campaign from collecting and processing personal data to using targeted messages during a campaign, and what to do with data once a campaign has ended. It also gives specific advice on the processing of categories of data that need special protection, such as data that relates to racial or ethnic origin, health or political opinions.

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In a blog post about the new guidance, information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, explained why it was needed.

She wrote: “Electoral Commission data has already shown a rapid acceleration in the use of digital political advertising over the past five years. The limitations on traditional door-to-door canvassing and static advertising due to the pandemic will make technological approaches even more essential this time around. There are clear benefits to society from a hybrid online/offline approach to campaigning, creating opportunities for campaigners and the electorate. It allows political parties to keep in touch with people efficiently, promotes more informed voting decisions and facilitates better engagement with hard-to-reach groups.”

Denham added: “All of this contributes to the potential for increased engagement in democratic processes. The ICO has a role where people’s information is being used to support campaigning, for instance around profiling voters for targeted digital advertising. It is in everyone’s interest that where new techniques are used, there is a consistent application of data protection standards. By following processes built on trust and transparency, campaigners can comply with the law in a way that maintains public support. In this way, campaigners can maximise the societal benefits of greater democratic engagement that digital campaigning confers; and voters can have confidence that they are engaging in a process that is transparent and safeguards their right to know how their personal information is being used.”


Sam Trendall

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