Vote Leave fined £40k for spam texts

Vote Leave fined £40,000 for sending unsolicited text messages

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has imposed a further fine to the pro-Brexit campaign group, Vote Leave, after finding that it sent out 194,154 text messages without any proof that the recipients had opted in.

The £40,000 fine refers to SMS campaigns in the run-up to the referendum in 2016 and has been issued on the basis that the senders could not prove they had authorisation.

Steve Eckersley, ICO director of investigations, said:

Spam texts are a real nuisance for millions of people and we will take action against organisations who disregard the law. …Direct marketing is not just about selling products and services, it’s also about promoting an organisation’s aims and ideals. Political campaigns and parties, like any other organisations, have to comply with the law.

Vote Leave said that it had garnered the phone numbers from those who had contacted them, but failed to prove that those people understood that they were opting-in to receive SMS messages, as is required under GDPR legislation.

Although GDPR hadn’t been enshrined in law at that time, the UK regulations were made clear and the texts were in contravention of those too. If the EU rules had been in place, the fine could have been a lot bigger.

The campaign offered £50m for anyone guessing the entire list of results of the European Football Championship campaign for the 2016 season.

The odds, protected by an insurance policy in the event there was a winner had an astronomically small chance of actually being won, was one in 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s one in five to the power of 21). Compare that to the main Lotto game in the UK. Getting 6 numbers.

The email address for the campaign has since been closed, and Vote Leave says it has deleted all the records. As such, it defends that it has also deleted the consent, and also the volume of call traffic it created.

The ICO warned that spam doesn’t have to be about selling products – political lobbying, even under the guise of a near impossible competition have to comply with the law too.
Vote Leave has already been fined £61,000 by the Election Commission for misusing social media channels during the campaign, which was described by critics at the time as “inadequate”.

This latest fine is part of the ICO’s ongoing investigation into the use of data in political campaigns. As a result of the investigation, the ICO has taken action against a number of different organisations engaged in campaigning for breaches of direct marketing and data protection laws.

Sources: BBC News