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Oh 'eck! Vera Duckworth lands Labour with Data Protection Act dispute

11th Feb 2010
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Coronation Street's Vera Duckworth has landed the Labour Party in the middle of data protection row with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) over automated spam telephone calls. 
Liz Dawn, who played Vera in the ITV soap opera, recorded a message for the Labour Party which was then sent to 495,000 people ahead of last year's local and European elections without their consent, thus breaching the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.
Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith said calls of this type cause "annoyance and disruption" to those receiving them and ordered that Labour must take action to ensure that no more such calls were made without consent by serving an enforcement notice on the party. He added that failure to comply would be a criminal offence which could lead to prosecution.
Labour had previously said it would stop automated calls of this kind after the commissioner received a complaint about the use of a Liz Dawn recording in 2007. This came from someone complained that he had received an automated marketing telephone call from the Labour Party despite never consenting to receive such calls.
In June last year, the ICO received further complaints from The Scottish National Party and a member of the public who said that the same message had been played in an unsolicited call encouraging recipients to vote in the local and European elections.
It's clear that this time the ICO has run out of patience. "The ICO has consistently made clear that the promotion of a political party counts as marketing,” said Smith. "The Labour Party has breached privacy rules by making automated marketing calls to individuals who have not consented to receiving such calls.
"The fact that the calls were targeted at what were believed to be Labour supporting areas confirmed our view that they were designed to promote the Labour Party’s electoral cause by encouraging Labour supporters to vote."
The party has 28 days from the enforcement notice date (4 February) to appeal the decision. It should also cease making the calls within 30 days of the notice. A Labour Party spokesperson said: "The Labour Party considered advice from the Information Commissioner’s Office prior to making these calls and believed that we had abided by this advice. We will now examine this decision in detail."
Labour is not alone in ending up in data protection hot water. The ICO has served enforcement notices to the Conservative Party and the Scottish National Party in October 2005, while the Liberal Democrats received a notice in 2008. The ICO had written to all major political parties in April 2005 to advise them of the new guidelines and regulations.  

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