ICO fines Vote Leave for marketing consent failings

Vote Leave has been fined £40,000 by the ICO for sending over 196,000 unsolicited text messages in the run up to the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The enforcement has been actioned as a breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) which regulate (amongst other things) direct marketing activities. Specifically PECR requires organisations to have consent for any unsolicited marketing related materials sent via email or text message. The ICO also makes it clear that “Direct marketing is not just about selling products and services, it’s also about promoting an organisation’s aims and ideals” and this is the latest in a number of Brexit related fines due to the misuse of personal data for political campaigning.

Vote Leave were unable to provide any evidence of the consent they alleged to have been given (via website enquiries and competitions) and claimed to have deleted that evidence after the referendum.

It’s a shame that this case was viewed in “old” data protection terms rather than under GDPR which has particular rules (the “accountability” principle) about being able to demonstrate compliance as this would have possibly been a different set of outcomes (and potentially a higher fine), but as the incident happened pre-GDPR the ICO is only able to action according to the laws in place at the time.

Of course, the new GDPR consent rules would have also had a role to play. Given that they too require being able to demonstrate that consent has been given and that this consent is clear and freely given.

If you’re to learn anything from this case:

  1. Make sure you have the right consent to send marketing emails and texts
  2. Make sure you are able to demonstrate that consent
  3. (and in a post-GDPR world) make sure you have the right kind of consent (GDPR compliant)

If you’re worried about your marketing activities and need help and support about ensuring your marketing is compliant with the privacy and marketing rules (PECR) as well as GDPR, then the Digital Compliance Hub can help. We can also help you if you’re being investigated by the ICO and are looking for help and guidance with dealing with their enquires.


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