Data Protection Commissioner
Data Protection Commissioner

24 January 2011

Data Commissioner advises parties on Electoral Communications

The Data Protection Commissioner, Billy Hawkes, has written to political parties to caution them about communicating with individuals using SMS (text), e-mail or phone in the forthcoming General Election. He advises that they abide by the following guidelines:

  1. Do not attempt to obtain or use contact information from third parties
  2. Avoid sending electoral messages to persons other than those – such as party members – who can reasonably be assumed to consent to receipt of such messages

The Data Protection Acts cater for written communications with the electorate by providing that the restrictions on direct marketing do not apply to direct mailing carried out in the course of political activities by a political party or its members, or a candidate for elective political office.  This permits candidates to send letters and leaflets to anyone on the Register of Electors.

During previous election campaigns, the Commissioner received numerous complaints from individuals in receipt of unsolicited SMS (text) messages, emails and phone calls from political parties and candidates for election.  In many cases, the individual had no previous contact with the political party or candidate and was concerned at the manner in which their details were sourced.  Subsequent investigations revealed that contact details were obtained from sources such as sports clubs, friends, colleagues and schools.  Obtaining personal data in such   circumstances would constitute a breach of the Data Protection Acts, as there would be no consent from the individual for their details to be obtained and used in this way.

"In the interests of good relations with the electorate, I urge parties and candidates to abide by these simple guidelines in the course of the forthcoming election", said the Commissioner.

For more information, please contact:

Lisa McGann, Office of the Data Protection Commissioner at 057 868 4800 or by email to media@dataprotection.ie