Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reveals the damning verdict of an official investigation into misuse of Croydon residents’ personal data by Mario Creatura, the Coulsdon Conservative councillor who is so desperate to become an MP that he’s been breaking the law
No one should be surprised. We’ve seen him at it before, numerous times, especially when he was on a tax-payer-funded salary working for Gavin Barwell. But Mario Creatura, the some-time chief Twitterer for Theresa Mayhem when she was Prime Minister, is back breaking the law again, scraping together as much data as he can, illegally, to use to his advantage at election time.
“It’s utterly shameful behaviour from someone who has pretensions of being our MP,” is the verdict by one resident whose near-year-long battle to uphold their legal rights has seen the Information Commissioner’s Office uphold their complaint against Creatura and his spam-happy Croydon Conservatives’ dodgy use of personal data.
For months now, Croydon residents have been left perplexed as emails from Creatura have somehow made it into their inbox, despite their never having given permission to the local Conservative Party, or to their prospective parliamentary candidate, to store their details on a database and send them material.
Under GDPR regulations which were introduced in 2018 intended to eliminate this kind of abuse, strict new rules have applied to email communications, requiring anyone contacted since GDPR came into force in May 2018 to have provided an explicit “opt-in” consent to be specifically contacted by the person sending the email.
A complaint to Creatura under this legislation from one dogged local resident was followed by a complaint to the ICO, which has now been upheld. The ICO, in its ruling, stated, “From the information you have provided to us it does appear that Croydon Conservatives have infringed the Data Protection legislation, as they have sent you direct marketing without being able to demonstrate consent.”
The resident, who asked Inside Croydon to respect their privacy and not be named, is angry that someone who until a couple of months ago was working at the heart of Whitehall can manage to ignore the law in such a cynical manner.
“This is a man who claims to be a digital expert,” they said. “He has even advised a Prime Minister. At best, he doesn’t have a basic grasp of data protection, at worst he’s willfully misusing our data. I’m willing to bet I’m far from the only person who’s suffered this breach.
“If he had any shame he’d consider his position.”
The ICO’s available sanctions include hefty fines for organisations which break the law. And this is not the first occasion when Creatura and Croydon Tories have had rulings handed down to them by the ICO. As long ago as 2012, when Boris Johnson was merely Mayor of London, Inside Croydon was reporting on breaches of data protection laws by Croydon Conservatives.
There have been further complaints about similar illegal practices in the seven years since. Yet astonishingly, the ICO sees fit not to apply any punishment for this egregious and deliberate act. “We do not consider that further action is required at the moment,” the ICO said in its response, allowing not-so-super Mario to get away with his stunt again.
The story doesn’t end there, though, and with a council by-election as well as a probable General Election coming, Croydon’s Tories have been put on notice.
The ICO instructed Croydon Conservatives to “review their market lists to ensure that any personal data held complies with their data protection obligations”, and that the complaint will be held on file as they “build up a picture of Croydon Conservatives information rights practices”.
Yet Creatura and Croydon Tories do not appear to have complied with this ICO instruction.
Since the ruling, Creatura and the Conservatives have continued to contact possibly thousands of residents by email, in each and every case a potential breach of privacy laws.
Another resident has complained formally to the ICO and passed details to Inside Croydon. The complaint states: “Based on conversations locally, I understand that my experience has been the same for many people in Croydon who are receiving unsolicited emails from Mr Creatura in his capacity as a political candidate.
“I would therefore like to request that the ICO serve an enforcement notice on Mr Creatura and Croydon Conservatives, ordering them to provide details of people they are contacting and proof of consent.”
This complaint also contains proof of the Conservatives apparently admitting they are breaking the law.
Ian Parker is another councillor for Coulsdon who is also employed as Croydon Tories’ full-time election agent for Creatura and Chris Philp.
He replied to the resident’s “subject access request” with the following: “Your e-mail address was collected prior to GDPR. New e-mail addresses collected post GDPR are not stored without evidence of consent.”
GDPR law is clear that any emails collected prior to GDPR coming into force must be able to demonstrate clear “opt-in” consent, and that organisations must “Refresh your consents if they don’t meet the GDPR standard”.
The resident was told by Parker in August that, “I have taken the liberty of removing your e-mail address from our records.” To add insult to misery, the resident still received yet another email from Creatura last month.
“What an utter shambles from someone who was paid double the UK’s average salary to be No10’s digital spin doctor,” said a senior local Labour Party source.
Investigations into Creatura and his Conservative colleagues’ efforts to flout the law are continuing.
If you have received an email from Creatura, Croydon Conservatives or any other political party when you have not given them permission to retain and use your personal data, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, under the subject heading “Illegal political spam”, and give us an outline of the details. And we promise, we won’t be adding you to any mailing list … at least, not without getting your permission first.
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