Data protection and canvassing

10th May 2019

Ireland is a democracy and it is very important that politicians are able to communicate with voters ahead of the upcoming local and European elections. However, where personal data are being used for electoral purposes, those doing so must respect the individual’s right to data protection and must abide by their responsibilities as data controllers under data protection law.

Elected representatives, electoral candidates and political parties may use information from the Electoral Register for electoral purposes. With the consent of the individual, they may send electronic direct communications and collect information directly from the individual. Personal data must be used safely and transparently in accordance with the principles of data protection, and those using personal data must have appropriate policies and safeguards in place.

The Data Protection Commission has created a number of resources on data protection and canvassing to help voters and candidates familiarise themselves with their rights and responsibilities when personal data are used for political canvassing and electoral activities.

Individuals’ rights

Data protection is a fundamental right under European law, and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sets out certain specific rights that must be respected if an individual’s personal data are being used. The rights of individuals in the context of electoral activities include the right to be informed about the collection and use of their personal data, and the right to access all of their personal data that are held by an elected representative, electoral candidate, or political party.

The DPC has issued guidance on the data protection rights of individuals in relation to elections and canvassing that gives further information on how individuals’ data protection rights are balanced against the public interest in the effective operation of a democratic society. This includes how personal data contained within the Electoral Register can legally be used for electoral purposes, rights in relation to electronic direct marketing for canvassing purposes, and rights where information may be obtained from you through door-to-door canvassing.

Canvassers’ responsibilities

It is important that politicians are able to communicate with voters. Where personal data are used by public representatives, electoral candidates, or political parties for political canvassing or electoral purposes, they must do so lawfully, respect the principles of data protection, and have appropriate policies and safeguards in place.

The DPC has issued guidance on using personal data for political canvassing and electoral purposes. It provides further information on the responsibilities of those using personal data when canvassing via post or door-to-door calls, as well as on the use of websites, and electronic direct marketing for electoral activities. It also provides information on canvassers’ responsibilities to be transparent on their use of personal data, and information on the conditions that must be satisfied if consent is the legal basis for using personal data.

Elected representatives and data protection

Elected representatives provide an extremely important function in a free and democratic society, and will invariably need to use  personal data to effectively represent their constituents. They have the responsibility to process their constituents’ personal data lawfully, fairly and transparently.

The DPC has issued guidance materials for elected representatives, developed on foot of consultation and engagement with relevant stakeholders. The guidance materials will assist elected representatives in having a strong awareness of their obligations and responsibilities as data controllers under the GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018.