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Conservative Party fined one-third of a luxury food hamper by ICO for nuisance email campaign

For once, Boris Johnson ignored calls of PECR

Britain’s ruling Conservative Party is facing a £10,000 fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for dispatching marketing emails to unwilling recipients, 51 of whom complained to the regulator.

The ICO issued the financial penalty today for breaching Regulation 22 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). This follows an investigation relating to emails sent by the Tories in the name of their glorious leader, the Rt Hon Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

In the last week of July, after de Pfeffel’s election as Prime Minister, the Party sent out 1,190,280 marketing emails.

The emails promoted the Conservative's political priorities and included a link to a website for the party. The near 1.2 million emails were part of three email campaigns: two were aimed at Party members (427,500 messages, all aimed at 213,750 people it claimed were on its membership list); and a third was sent to 726,780 people altogether, of which 549,030 were considered to be non-members.

Although the Party failed to keep records of the basis on which recipients had consented to receive those emails, the ICO somehow found not all mails flouted PECR as it accepted some were validly sent, despite it not being possible to identify the proportion.

Who us, retain records?

For its part, the party said it had recently changed its bulk email provider and the "transfer of records had not been effected properly". It wouldn't give any more information or detail about the issue, claiming "the relevant employee left shortly afterwards and there are no available records."

The ICO concluded the Conservatives didn’t have valid consent to send emails to the 51 complainants, and the party had failed to retain records of who had unsubscribed from its marketing emails.

“In many instances, no evidenced consent could be provided at all, including some cases where the individual had specifically unsubscribed. In other instances, the consent process relied on upon by the Party did not meet the standard required by the GDPR and by PECR: it was not freely given, specific or informed,” said the ICO [PDF].

But the story does not end there. Amid the initial probe, the Conservatives then dispatched nearly 23 million emails during the 2019 General Election campaign, which generated 95 complaints to the Commissioner, again because of the same compliance issues as the earlier nuisance session.

As such the ICO handed the Tories a £10,000 fine, which is a fraction of the £27,000 worth of luxury organic food that de Pfeffel’s butler allegedly delivered to Downing Street for the PM. According to the Daily Mail, some of the items were paid for by Tory donors.

In a statement sent to The Register, the Conservative Party said: “We have accepted this fine from the ICO. We have since reviewed and improved our processes and are fully compliant with all prevailing data protection and electronic marketing legislation.”

In addition to the comment about the nuisance emails, we have also asked for comment on the claims about luxury food deliveries. The Conservative Party asked us to phone 10 Downing Street's press office. ®

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