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Brexit campaign group fined £50k for sending half a million spam texts

Political junk mail OK when it's pro-EU and from gov.UK

Pro-Brexit group Leave.EU has been fined £50,000 for sending up to 500,000 unsolicited text messages urging people to support its campaign, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said today.

The group, registered as Better for the Country Ltd and funded by millionaire UKIP donor Arron Banks, broke the law by not having the consent of the people it sent text messages to, said the watchdog.

Leave.EU said it had obtained the list of phone numbers from a third party.

Many of those who were sent the texts had consented to receiving messages about areas including leisure, home improvements and insurance – but had not given permission to be bombarded by texts about EU politics.

Between 1 May 2015 and 7 October 2015, 134 complaints were made about the receipt of unsolicited direct marketing text messages sent by the company.

The messages read: “Hello, we’re contacting you from The Know. Text YES to support our fight to leave the EU or see for more info. Reply STOP to opt-out”.

Stephen Eckersley, ICO head of enforcement, said: “Political parties and campaign groups must follow the same rules as anyone else. That means they must have people’s permission before sending them text messages.

This is not the first time the ICO has taken action over political campaigning that falls short of the law.

In March 2016 it fined Labour MP David Lammy £5,000 for making nuisance calls. In December 2015 it fined the Telegraph Media Group £30,000 for sending hundreds of thousands of emails on the day of the general election urging readers to vote Conservative.

There’s even a precedent for ICO enforcement action over referendum campaigns. In the run-up to the Scottish Referendum, the Better Together campaign signed an undertaking after sending 300,000 text messages to individuals without adequately checking whether they had consented to being contacted.

The government itself recently came under fire for spending £9m of taxpayers' money on pro-Remain leaflets, which it sent to every household in the UK. The upper limit for political party spending on referendum campaigning, set by the Electoral Commission, is £7m. ®

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