Nationwide breaches of DPA


To leave or to remain. What a difficult question and the citizens of the UK are wrestling daily with this issue under an intense barrage of claim and counter claim.

But sneaking under the radar are hundreds of breaches of Data Protection law some involving thousands or millions of data subjects. Not noticed them? If you work for a large organisation like BT or JCB your boss will have communicated to you that you should vote the way he thinks. He’s not the only one. Large companies are using the email address they hold for payroll purposes to communicate a political message to their staff. Principle 1 says

“Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully (and according to a condition from Schedule 2 and/or 3)”

They could look for a justification in Schedule 2 but they’d be better looking in Schedule 3 as political data is sensitive. So consent turns into the slightly more difficult informed consent but which employee ever consents that his data will be used to tell him which way to vote and which employer ever thought he’d need to help his employees with voting. Old faithful Schedule 2 (6) allows

“The processing is necessary for the purposes of legitimate interests pursued by the data controller or by the third party or parties to whom the data are disclosed, except where the processing is unwarranted in any particular case by reason of prejudice to the rights and freedoms or legitimate interests of the data subject.”

Which data subject would accept that political lobbying is warranted with his payroll data and who would ever say that voting recommendations were a legitimate interest of your boss. So all schedules are out of the window. So they can’t do it lawfully and/or fairly. Principle 1 breached.

Principle 2 says

“Personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes.”

Specified means in fair processing and notification sent to Commissioner. So if an organisation hasn’t said to its employees that it will use their personal data for pushing a political end they can’t do it. Principle 2 breached.

It may be that these companies are stretching the definition of personnel & payroll to include ‘what might happen to your pay if we left the EU’ but it’s quite a long stretch. It may end up with someone in authority making a judgement one day. But time is short and it’s unlikely anyone will be interested after the polling stations close.

And these employers trying to influence people’s opinions or beliefs drops into the ICO definition of direct marketing.


Quite a few of these fit neatly with the leave/remain issue. If employers are doing it by electronic means then PECR applies. You could argue that a corporate email address isn’t personal data but there are plenty who will argue that it is. (But PECR’s only concerned with subscribers isn’t it?)

Further afield European businessmen are trying to help us make up our mind as well.

An email sent to a few million people recently (all the people who’ve ever flown with Ryanair) was brazenly labelled Brexit Special. Even with a public service announcement thrown in it clearly used email addresses collected for administration of air travel to influence voting intentions.


So there’s a possibility that millions of data subjects are having their rights infringed and Breaches of the DPA are legion. Captains of industry could argue that it’s their personal view to leave/remain not the corporate body that holds the payroll data but that just opens up another can of worms doesn’t it. We may get as far as a criminal offence of procuring or unauthorised obtaining if the boss uses the company data for a personal purpose.

At least it’s only a few breaches of the Data Protection Act. It could be worse – they could be lying to us.

It’ll all be forgotten on Friday morning. (Until the next referendum)

Act Now can help you prepare for the Regulation. Our one day GDPR workshops are ideal for those wanting to get a headstart in their preparations.

Author: actnowtraining

Act Now Training is Europe's leading provider of information governance training, serving government agencies, multinational corporations, financial institutions, and corporate law firms. Our associates have decades of information governance experience. We pride ourselves on delivering high quality training that is practical and makes the complex simple. Our extensive programme ranges from short webinars and one day workshops through to higher level practitioner certificate courses delivered online or in the classroom.

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