Marketeers stymied by Data Protection Act

Marketing companies have complained that data protection legislation in the UK is preventing them from keeping their databases up-to-date, putting them in breach of key provisions of the Data Protection Act, they say.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA), which represents about 1,000 direct marketers in the UK, wants members to be given a right of access to the electoral register, so that the official lists can be used to update their records. Under the terms of the Act, they are required to keep databases of personal information accurate and up-to-date.

But local councils, which are responsible for looking after the electoral register, say that making the data available to marketing companies is against the law.

Their refusal follows a 2001 court ruling that banned the sale of the electoral roll for commercial purposes. Information Commissioner Elizabeth France, has called on the British government to limit the use of the electoral register to even fewer organisations. She says that the register only has limited commercial value, since it is not updated often enough.

But DMA president Colin Lloyd says that the electoral register would provide marketing companies with the accurate and sufficiently up-to-date information they need to ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act.

Under the Act, marketing companies must, for instance, identify the deceased and minors, so that they can be left out of direct-marketing campaigns. The DMA is asking the British government for a special exemption so that marketeers may use the electoral roll. Draft legislation is expected soon.

A central plank of the Data Protection Act is that individuals should be informed of what happens to their personal data, which is deemed confidential, and that their consent should be sought if the data is going to be sold on to a third party.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

Related Topics

Data Protection Act