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ICO stops short of fining Conservative Party for breach of data protection law

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has stopped short of taking regulatory action against the Conservative Party following an investigation into its market research.

The regulator reviewed scripts of calls made by Welsh firm Blue Telecoms on behalf of the party in the run up to the general election in June.

Steve Eckersley, the ICO’s head of enforcement, concluded that “two small sections” of the scripts “crossed the line from legitimate market research to unlawful direct marketing”.

But he added the team was satisfied that “in general” the questions reflected a valid market research campaign. “We’ve warned the Conservative Party to get it right next time,” he wrote in a blog.

The ICO shared the offending paragraphs with NS Tech:

“That means your personal local vote will determine the result locally, and nationally, and determine who is Prime Minister – Theresa May with a plan to control our laws, borders and money AND deliver what people voted for at the referendum last year, OR Jeremy Corbyn, who has said he isn’t concerned about the level of immigration, heading up a coalition with the minor parties who oppose Brexit.”

“It was reported in the Daily Mirror in September last year that Jeremy Corbyn said that he’s ‘not concerned’ about the numbers of people coming to live in the UK. It was reported on SKY NEWS on 20th April this year that Theresa May restated her pledge to reduce net migration.”

The data protection watchdog launched its investigation after Channel 4 News raised concerns about the market research campaign in June.

Sascha Lopez, CEO of Blue Telecoms, told NS Tech: “We are pleased to hear that the ICO has found that the calling reflected a valid market research campaign. Blue Telecoms works closely with call centres to ensure compliance with PECR (Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations) and adheres to the [Telephone Preference Service].

“Although it must be noted that Blue Telecoms did not write the scripts used during the campaign, we ensured that our agents followed them strictly so as not to introduce any personal views and to simply gain an insight into public opinion.”

The Conservative Party has not responded to a request for comment.