Retired solicitor DAVID WHITE has been investigating a strange ambivalence towards upholding the law shown by the local MP and the Mayor of London
Just before the London Mayoral elections in May this year, I received two emails from Boris Johnson urging me to vote for him.
Nothing very startling about that, you might think, apart from the fact that I have been a member of the Labour party for more than 40 years. So I was probably not the most obvious person to approach to persuade or encourage to vote for a Conservative candidate as the Mayor of London.
It set me wondering how Boris had obtained my private email address. I had never given it to Boris or to the Tory party, nor authorised them to email me political literature.
When I recounted what had happened on Twitter, it was soon apparent that I was not the only one to have received unsolicited political party propaganda via email. And the one thing we all had in common is that we all lived in Croydon Central constituency and had emailed Gavin Barwell, in his capacity as MP.
Importantly, though, none of us had authorised our email addresses to be passed on to anyone. I, for one, had been reassured by the specific statement by Barwell on his website, where he stated that anyone signing up for his regular constituency email bulletin would not have their personal information passed on to any third parties.
I was aware that, under the Data Protection Act, MPs and others who hold personal information have to be registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office, and that it is illegal for them to pass on data to third parties unless this is specifically authorised.
So we asked Gavin Barwell to explain what had happened. Initially, Barwell claimed, apparently in all seriousness, that it must have been the Labour party who had passed on the email addresses to Boris Johnson.
On May 2, I was at a meeting in Park Hill which our local MP was attending. So I spoke to Barwell about this matter, and he asked me to forward the Boris emails to him and promised to look into the matter.
After about four weeks, I had heard nothing from Barwell. So I emailed him. No reply.
On June 26, I sent him a Direct Message on Twitter. Again no reply.
I wrote to the ICO. They said they needed more evidence that confidential information had been passed on by Barwell and suggested that I put in a “subject access request” to Boris Johnson and/or the Conservative party, asking what information they held about me and how they had got hold of my email address.
When I did this, I received a letter from Simon Day, the finance and compliance director of the Conservative party, demanding a £10 fee before they would even give me the courtesy of a reply. Although this is not illegal, it seemed to me outrageous that they should make a charge for supplying my own information. Nevertheless I was determined to see this through, so I sent a cheque for £10.
The Conservative party then delayed for the maximum time permitted by law. After 40 days, they wrote: “Your email address was entered onto the ERM (Electoral Relationship Management) system by a user at the Croydon Conservative Federation on 19 January 2012. They are unable to clarify where your email address was obtained from”.
I have now collected statements from some of the other Croydon Central residents whose email addresses have been misused, and I have sent all the evidence to the ICO. I believe the evidence shows there is no possible source for the information other than Gavin Barwell MP, or someone working for him.
Gavin Barwell has already fallen foul of the Data Protection Act on at least two occasions, including the recent case where it was revealed that he failed to register as a data controller for more than two years after being elected to Westminster. Although he had broken the law, he escaped a fine.
To adapt the words of Lady Bracknell, one brush with the Data Protection Act might seem to be a misfortune, but three times looks like carelessness.
Shouldn’t the Conservatives, Boris Johnson and Gavin Barwell, as a party of government, as the Mayor of London or as a local MP, be more respectful of data protection legislation?
And if things go wrong, shouldn’t they be prepared to apologise promptly and investigate properly, rather than putting every possible obstacle in the way of those whose information they have misused?
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