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ICO to investigate data analytics use in UK elections

Neil Merrett Published 18 May 2017

Initially focused on last year’s EU referendum with a view to wider campaigning, the UK’s data regulator will consider the legality of how personal data is being used for electioneering

 

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has announced the launch of a formal investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes, taking into account last year’s EU referendum campaign and potentially wider electioneering in the UK.

Building on an assessment launched in March of data protection risks resulting from the use of data analytics, which also considered implications for political parties and campaigns, Denham said there was a clear need for transparency in how personal information is being used.

Although not connected to next month’s General Election, she stressed that candidates and political organisations were required to comply with the law, having written to a number of parties with the ICO’s updated guidance on campaigning and data use.

Amidst concerns and reportage about the types of information being collected and then used to target voters in specific ways, the thrust of the ICO’s investigation will take into account the “complex and rapidly” evolving use of data analytics.

Denham noted particular concern over the limited public awareness about how their information may be being used and shared by companies and parties.   She warned that without a clearer understanding of the use and legal implications of these tools in the political process, there were significant potential impacts that could undermine individual privacy.

“Given the big data revolution it is understandable that political campaigns are exploring the potential of advanced data analysis tools to help win votes,” said the information commissioner in a blog .

 “The public have the right to expect that this takes place in accordance with the law as it relates to data protection and electronic marketing.”

Describing the work as a “high priority” for the ICO to ensure companies were working within accordance to UK law and electoral regulations, Denham said an update on the data regulator’s findings was expected later this year.

“Shining a light on such practices will require detailed investigative work and engagement with a range of organisations – political parties and campaigns, data companies and social media platforms, as well as international cooperation,” she added.








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