THE “No” campaign in the Scottish independence referendum campaign has been reprimanded for sending 300,000 text messages to voters without checking whether they had given permission to be contacted.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has demanded that the Better Together campaign, led by former Chancellor Alistair Darling, signs an undertaking pledging to comply with privacy regulations in future.
Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) that cover electronic marketing including text messages, calls and emails, require organisations to have a person’s consent before sending them marketing text messages.
Better Together sent 300,000 messages to Scots urging them to complete a survey confirming how they intended to vote. The messages were sent out by a third party marketing company on 22 March 2013 and 27 April 2013.
On both occasions, Better Together failed to check whether the recipients had provided their consent. Better Together had thought permission had been obtained by the company working on their behalf. The ICO decided to investigate the text messages after receiving 61 complaints about them.
A second round of text messages were sent out despite Better Together and their rival campaign Yes Scotland receiving a letter from the ICO in early April 2013 warning them about the need to comply with the law.
ICO Assistant Commissioner for Scotland, Ken Macdonald, said: “The Scottish referendum is an important issue, and we understand why both sides of the debate want to communicate with potential voters. But it is absolutely crucial that they continue to do so in a manner that respects the rules that exist to protect consumers.
“If people consider the messages or calls they are receiving to be causing them a nuisance, there is a real danger that they will not only lose faith with the group who sent the message, but will lose interest in the entire process. There’s no room to get this wrong and we hope the action taken against Better Together today sends out a warning that campaigners involved in the referendum debate must not unlawfully pester and annoy people with unwanted text messages.”
A spokesman for Better Together said:”We are disappointed that, in spite of written assurances that all recipients of this message sent on our behalf had given opt-in permission, some individuals did not. This was sent on our behalf, rather than by us, but it is our responsibility.
“We take this very seriously and work closely with the ICO to ensure we always meet best practice on data protection.”We are happy to restate what has always been our intention: that we strive to ensure that we meet all data protection standards.”