I realise that it’s hugely ironic that my first post for the Conservatives for Liberty blog should be invoking a piece of legislation, let alone that passed by a Labour government – but here goes nothing…
The Data Protection Act (1998) is quite clear about how personal data should be used:
“Personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes.”
In a nutshell, it says if I give you my data for one purpose, don’t use it for another unless you’ve asked for my permission first. It’s that simple.
That’s why I was a bit upset to get three separate emails last night where it was quite clear that my data had been harvested from one source (namely the Conservative Future membership database) and used by individuals for a purpose for which it was not intended.
Two came from CF Executive members asking for me to support them in the CWF open primary. I’d already voted anyway. Another came from a London Mayoral candidate. Hello, I’m from Northern Ireland. As much as I love London and will help the campaign at some stage, I still live in Belfast.
You may be saying, ‘hang on, it’s only an email address’ but that’s not really the point. I willingly gave that email address over on the understanding that it would be used for the purpose I was handing it over for. If I had handed over information on my income to a mortgage provider, so that I could get a mortgage and an employee of the mortgage provider used it to try and flog me something else when he was moonlighting then there would be outrage. If you accept the principle you accept that it stands no matter what the data involved is.
And let’s face it, in principle the hypothetical scenario I’ve just outlined is exactly what happened here. I gave my data to CF, not to be used in the individual campaigns of its executive members.
By now you might be wondering why this is the ideal place to mention this. Well, my point is this. If ‘sound’ Conservatives can’t get these very basic privacy issues right, then why should anyone else?
This is the kind of issue that most libertarians I meet are passionate about. In fact we’re quite precious about it. If I’m going to engage with the best the modern world has to offer, I want to make sure that the footprint I leave stays exactly where I left it. The Data Protection Act is a perfectly rational extension of the basic rights I have as a citizen of this country. Namely, that I control my interaction with other bodies, not the other way around. OK, so Theresa May doesn’t necessarily agree with me but I can live with that for now.
I have no doubt that the three culprits involved will go on and do wonderful things in their future political lives. I just hope they get some data protection training first. And maybe a bit of common sense as well.