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The General Election and my personal data – what should I expect?

With a General Election set to take place on 4 July, we know many people have questions about how their data may be used during the election campaign. Personal information is an important part of political campaigning – it allows political parties to get crucial messages to voters and helps them to understand the key issues for different people.

The ICO has been working with fellow regulators, and with those organisations and individuals who will be handling your personal information during the upcoming election campaign, to ensure expectations around compliance with the law are clear. We have worked with the House of Commons Authority to bolster the support available for MPs handling constituency casework and the Information Commissioner has this week written to Political Parties reminding them of their data protection obligations.

What should I expect? 

Expect clear privacy information

It should be clear to you from the outset how a political party is using your personal information, and this should be easy to understand.

For example, if a political party sends you a form so that you can register for a postal vote then it should be clear how the political party will use that information. It should not come as a surprise to you if that data is used as part of an election campaign. Read more on your right to be informed.

If you want to know more about how your information is being used, this should be in the party’s privacy notice, usually found on their website.

Expect to be told if a political party is using profiling techniques

Political parties are entitled to receive a copy of the full electoral register, this contains information such as your name and address. Political parties build their understanding of different voters with direct conversations with members of the public, with publicly available data such as census data and by buying data from data broking companies (businesses which collect personal data from various sources like social media, then store, categorise and sell this data).

If a political party combines information about you from several different sources, this is known as profiling. Political parties use this technique to learn more about voters and to send targeted marketing.

If a political party is using profiling techniques, it should be clear within their privacy notice. If you have concerns about profiling techniques being used, you can contact the party.

Expect clear information about social media advertising

Social media advertising is used by all parties to promote their work, but it’s important that it is clear to people if they are being targeted. Political parties should make it clear, either in their privacy notice or via the social media platform, that people’s personal information will be used to send them specific social media advertising. 

Find out more about information rights in online campaigning.

Expect to be told how information from a petition or survey will be used

If a political party asks you to complete a survey or a petition, they should be clear how that data will be used in the future. In many cases, it will not be appropriate for a party or candidate who has collected information for a specific petition or survey to repurpose that information for political campaigning.

If you are concerned about how your information is being used, you can exercise your right to object.

Expect political parties to follow the law when it comes to direct marketing

Political parties must follow direct marketing rules when campaigning. They may do this in a number of ways, including:

  • Post personally addressed to you: This method may be used to contact you unless you have asked the organisation not to write to you or not to send you marketing material by post. In addition, electoral law sets out when a political party, candidate or referendum campaigner has the right to send a single election or referendum mailing by Freepost. This specific right applies even if you have asked the organisation not to contact you.
  • Emails, texts and other messages to mobile phones or voicemails, or faxes: This method may be used to contact you where you have given consent to the organisation to do so for specific purposes.  
  • Phone calls: This method may be used to contact you unless the organisation has grounds for believing you would not want it to contact you, such as if you have registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).
  • Automated phone calls: This method may be used to contact you where you have given specific consent to the organisation to do so for specific purposes.  

Post that is unaddressed or addressed simply to ‘the occupier’ is not covered under these rules.

Find out more information on political campaigning direct marketing.

If you think a party is misusing your data, you can make a complaint to the ICO.

Expect former, new and returning MPs to handle your data appropriately

As well as the usual turnover of MPs, this General Election will see some changes to constituency boundaries, so that you may find you are now a resident of a different constituency.

Any MP who is stepping down, is not re-elected, or whose constituency boundary is changing, will be managing the transfer of constituents’ casework and data. Therefore, if you have an ongoing or recent case with your current MP, they may contact you to ask for your consent to share your data with your new MP.

You should be aware that if you do not grant this consent, the data or casework may be deleted.

Expect resources to keep you informed from the ICO

The ICO has created resources for voters to learn more about their information rights during the general election campaign.

Expect the ICO to comply with its pre-election obligations

The ICO and other public organisations will be quieter than usual in order to comply with our pre-election obligations.

We will be making fewer public announcements and may postpone some announcements until after polling day. This is to ensure that the ICO is completely impartial and that we do not distract from or have any influence over the wider campaign.

The ICO will continue to perform its regulatory function in all other ways. You can still get in touch with us as usual. If you have a complaint during this time, you can still submit this to the ICO,

What should I do if I am concerned with how my data is being used?

You have the right to be confident that political parties handle your personal information responsibly and in line with good practice. If you’re unhappy with how your data is being used, we have guidance to help you raise a concern.

Expect to have to show Voter ID 

While voters in Northern Ireland have needed to show their Photo ID to vote since 2003, for the first time at a General Election voters across the UK will now need to show a form of Photo ID. You only need to show your ID to polling station staff, and you can ask for it to be checked in private. If you don’t have accepted photo ID, you can apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate. For more information, visit the Electoral Commission website.

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