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Conservatives probed by Information Commissioner for GDPR breaches
15 Oct 2018
The Conservative Party is being investigated by the Data Commissioner for potential breach of GDPR. As well as a potentially huge fine for the Party, the case could considerably hamper the Tories ability to maximise their votes in a potentially imminent General Election.
The Conservative Party is supported by a well-organised party machine – they have always been hugely effective in ‘getting the vote out’. Thanks to the investigations of Viva Europa, we now know how it manages to do this; it holds and processes personal sensitive data on everyone on the electoral role – all without the consent and, we believe, in clear breach of GDPR.
The investigations were triggered by bizarre event that occurred in the local council elections in the Freemantle Ward in March this year (where Viva Europa founder Ed Thompson was fighting to unseat the Conservative Councillor). Ed became aware that on the eve of the dispatch of the Postal Votes, the Tory Councillor hand-delivered a poster, pen and leaflet to certain constituents with Postal Votes. The gift of a pen triggered an investigation by the Electoral Commission and the Hampshire Police for potential illegal ‘treating’ of the electorate and made the local and national news. [The case was eventually dropped without any action being taken against the Councillor]. All very interesting, but at the time, GDPR was about to introduced - hence we were curious as to how the Tory machine had managed to target certain key supporters whilst ensuring they didn’t waste time and effort delivering their gift to supporters of rival parties.
In late May 2018, after GDPR came in, Ed made a Data Subject Request to the Conservative Constituency Office (Test, Hampshire). The purpose of request was to find out what information the party held on him centrally or locally.
The results were as following (I have desensitised my address, phone number of DOB only):
Having searched our records, both electronic and paper, I can confirm the information below is the only information STCA (Southampton Test Conservative Association) holds or has access to.
We currently have copies of publicly available election statements - attached as freemantle.pdf
All our other records relating to your SAR are electronically held via our central party run database software.
I have created a new electronic file, in a password protected folder for the sole purpose of responding to your request and providing Ed-Thompson.jpg
The files attached will be deleted from my password protected computer once I have sent this email.
This email chain itself will then be kept so that if requested by the ICO I can demonstrate our compliance.
Full Name = Mr Edward J Thompson
Contact preferences = No direct contact via phone, mail, in person - Can email
Address Details = 7 Anystreet, SOUTHAMPTON. SOXX XXX
Telephone Number = 02380999999* TPS
Electoral Register = Screenshot added of data held here
Email = None held
May 2nd 2002 = Labour
April 29th 2010 = Labour
May 4th 2015 = Labour
April 6th 2018 = Independent
Voted: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2018
Not Voted: 2012, 2013, 2014
manually entered notes
6-4-2018 = Running as Anti Brexit Pro Remain Independent
4-7-16 = staunch supporter
DOB = 01/01/00*
Mother Tongue = English
Gender = Male
Mosaic Codes - 2018 = G26_3 - 2017 & 2016 = h30_1
In relation to the mosaic codes, these then correspond to the following:
•G26 = “Cafes and catchments” (Affluent families with growing children living in upmarket housing in city environs)
•H30 = “Primary Ambitions” (Forward-thinking younger families who sought affordable homes in good suburbs which they may now be out-growing)
The return is interesting for a number of reasons. The information on how and when I voted is not in the public domain. I have never given them permission to hold this data (either verbally or explicitly. Their opinion on how they believe I voted is purely conjecture on their part and is an opinion on my political beliefs and actions. They also hold data on my level of support for a political party – again, this is a purely an opinion that they have constructed themselves.
Anyone reading this article will have clocked that the Conservative Party will have similar opinions and records on their database on them. You will probably remember the flurry of GDPR emails in April and May and wonder how the Conservative Party can hold and process information like this on them.
Under GDPR rules, data held on ‘political opinions’ is classified as ‘Sensitive Personal Data’ and as such the explicit consent of the individual is required to hold such data. A complaint was made to the Conservative Party – they were also asked to explain on what basis they were holding the information.
I have attached the response:
Dear Mr Thompson,
Thank you for your e-mail.
Consent is only one of six legal bases for the processing of person data. As a Political Party we do not necessarily rely on consent for the processing of political opinions.
Political opinions under the GDPR are classed as ‘special category data’. We process this data in accordance with article 6 and 9 of the GDPR and we meet the conditions for the processing as given in schedule 1 (part 2) of the Data Protection Act 2018.
I invite you to read our privacy statement, in which we state how we use your data, and our justification and legal basis for doing so. This can be found at www.conservatives.com/privacy.
I also recognise your request for the deletion of the data stated above. I will ensure that this is now carried out.
Please note we can only act on requests regarding your personal data. If members of your family would like their data deleted, please have them contact us directly.
As before I will keep this response and your email as evidence of action taken.
STCA Chairman & DPO (Data Protection Officer)
We weren’t hugely impressed by the response. There is nothing in the quoted sections of DPA and GDP that seem to permit holding this kind of data. So, Ed followed this up with a request for the specific regulation text that were relying on to hold such data. The response is attached:
Dear Mr Thompson,
The information you requested in terms of the exact text that we are relying on is below.
Article 6 (e) “processing is necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or...”
Article 9 (g) “Processing is necessary for reasons of substantial public interest…”
Schedule 1 of the Data Protection Act 2018, which should be read side-by-side with the GDPR, states that the condition of being in “substantial public interest” is met if the processing— (a) is of personal data revealing political opinions.
I would politely request that if you have any further questions that you direct them to the party's main compliance team via email@example.com as they are better placed to help you from here.
STCA Chairman & DPO (Data Protection Officer)
So, there we have it: the Conservative Party hold sensitive personal data on all of us and maintain that they can hold and process it without our consent because it is either ‘in the public interest’ or is ‘of substantial public interest’. GDPR has this to say about processing a task carried out in the public interest.
The Information Commissioner is clear about the use of ‘Public Interest’ (link).
Here is an extract:
•It [Public Interest] is most relevant to public authorities, but it can apply to any organisation that exercises official authority or carries out tasks in the public interest.
•You do not need a specific statutory power to process personal data, but your underlying task, function or power must have a clear basis in law.
•The processing must be necessary. If you could reasonably perform your tasks or exercise your powers in a less intrusive way, this lawful basis does not apply.
Members of the Conservative party may form the current government but it is not a ’public authority’ and the party does not in itself ‘exercise official authority’. It is simply a political party which people may join if they supply are vetted application and pay their requried membership fee - the Party is not a public authority.
Even if the argument could be made for it exercising 'official authority’ the third bullet point above would clearly discounts the validity of the Conservative Party holding sensitive personal data under this 'public interest' provision – the Party can put up candidates for election without holding any personal sensitive on individual electors. Clearly, it might be less successful in winning seats if it did not hold such data but that in itself does not justify having and processing it.
A complaint has been made to the Data Commissioner and we are awaiting the results of their investigation. Under the GDPR rules, the penalties can be signifiant - in theory, the Conservatives could be fined a maximum or 20m Euros (or 4% of their turnover, if larger). However, the party will probably be most worried about the possibility of having to delete an entire nation's sensitive data and the impact this would have on their ability to maximise votes at the next General Election.
Viva Europa can confirm that we do not hold any sensitive personal data without explicit consent. However it is quite possible that other political parties may also be playing fast and loose with all our sensitive data.
Police investigate top Tory Councillor for Election Fraud
26 April 2018
That’s quite some headline. And it’s all true.
It clearly needs some explanation:
Jeremy Moulton is the leader of the Conservatives on Southampton Council and has been a councillor for the Freemantle Ward for 16 years. He was also a Conservative candidate for parliament for the Southampton Test constituency.
Moulton is a seasoned local politician and is facing a tough battle to retain his council seat. Moulton does not live in the Freemantle ward and is trying to fend off the threat of local candidates from Labour and Viva Europa (Ed Thompson). Viva Europa are a single-issue party campaigning on an anti-Brexit platform.
The incident that caused the Electoral Fraud issue might seem rather trivial in itself but it does raise some interesting questions.
Moulton’s campaign made hand-deliveries to specifically targeted voters who held postal votes. The enveloped pack contained a leaflet; a poster; a covering letter focussing on the need to use the postal vote wisely, and crucially, a pen. The pen carried the instruction “vote Jeremy Moulton for Freemantle”.
Most electoral novices would spot the potential problem with bestowing gifts on potential voters – even if the gift is only a pen. What were the Moulton campaigners thinking? Mr Moulton would surely be aware that making any kind of gift to the electorate is a hugely contentious area.
As Ed Thompson explained: “You really have to question the judgement of someone who thinks it’s a good idea to deliver nice new pens to specially targeted electors with postal votes – particularly when the pen carries the instruction to use it to vote for a specific candidate.”
The matter was initially raised by the Viva Europa candidate as an enquiry with the Returning Officer. The Returning Officer advised that this is a grey area and that potentially making gifts in this way could be considered as ‘Treating’ – and may potentially come under the Representation of the People Act 1983. The concept of Treating dates back to the 18th century when candidates would ply electors with food (and particularly drink) to secure votes. In 1911 an MP was unseated for giving coal to the poor and sweets to schoolchildren. In 2015 in Southampton Itchen, a UKIP parliamentary candidate landed himself in hot water (and in the national press) for handing out sausage rolls. This is clearly not the kind company that Moulton would not have wanted to be associated with.
Following guidance from the Electoral Commission fraud team, the Returning Officer has reported the incident to Hampshire Police. The Hampshire Police will investigate and potentially refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Services for a decision on prosecution.
At Viva Europa, we are certainly surprised to be told that the matter has gone as far as the police. Given that the Treating offence seems to require a ‘corrupt intention’ in order to prosecute, we would be surprised if the outcome is anything other than a slap on the wrist for Mr Moulton. We would like to point out that whilst we believe Mr Moulton has been foolish and a little arrogant; we are not suggesting he had a deliberately corrupt intention.
However, we do believe that it is right that this is taken seriously and steps are taken to firm up guidance. Everyone should be on a level playing field when it comes to elections and not all parties would be happy or able to hand out pens to postal voters. If nothing else, steps need to be taken to ensure the electorate doesn’t want to find their letterboxes filled with stress-balls, coasters and other tat.
And what of the pens themselves? A quick online check suggests the pens cost around 40p each and probably required a minimum run of a couple of hundred. It is important to remember that in local Council elections, a majority of less than a hundred is not uncommon (and the Freemantle vote is likely to particularly tight).
Although Mr Moulton must be feeling rather sheepish, Ed Thompson, the Viva Europa candidate hopes he hasn’t lost his sense of humour:
“Jeremy has been ink-redibly foolish. This underlines how worried the Tories must about the Viva Europa inroads in Freemantle. Perhaps, for Jeremy Moulton in Freemantle, the writing is on the wall?”
Update: This case was eventually dropped and no action was taken against Mr Moulton.
First Viva Europa launched and Press Release issued:
Viva Europa featured on Politics.co.uk
The acclaimed website www.politics.co.uk carried an article about how and why the Party was set up:
Council Tax rises but cuts will continue
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