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Labour ‘failing on digital rights’, say campaigners | Science & Tech News

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The vast majority of complaints about political parties’ use of personal data are directed at Labour, with campaigners saying the party is “failing on digital rights”, Sky News can reveal.

Internal figures from the Information Commissioner’s Office, seen by Sky News, show members of the public made 110 complaints to the data watchdog about political parties in 2019.

Of these, 64 were made about Labour – more than five times the number of complaints against the next most complained about parties, the Conservatives and UKIP, which both received 12 complaints.

Most of the complaints against Labour came because it failed to respond to requests to reveal what data it holds on people.

Under data protection law, anyone can ask any organisation that holds information on them for a copy of their data, a process known as a subject access request.

Forty-six of the 64 complaints made against Labour were about its handling of subject access requests. For the next most complained about topic, disclosure of data, the ICO only received five complaints about the party.

Pascal Crowe, data and democracy project officer, filed data access requests with UK political parties
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Pascal Crowe, data and democracy project officer, filed data access requests with UK political parties

“This is a party that claims in its privacy policy that it puts individuals rights at the heart of how it collects, holds and uses personal data,” said Pascal Crowe, data and democracy project officer at digital rights campaigners Open Rights Group, who filed a subject access request with all nine main UK political parties – and received a response from every party except Labour.

“Actually what we’re seeing here is that individual rights are left out in the cold.”

A Labour spokesperson told Sky News: “It’s to be expected that a party with far more members than all the others put together would have more of these inquiries.

“We are working hard to process outstanding requests, and we are on track with our plan – agreed with the ICO – to do so quickly.”

Rowenna Fielding said the lack of responses was worrying
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Rowenna Fielding said the lack of responses was worrying

An ICO spokesperson said: “The ICO is in contact with the Labour Party regarding a number of data protection matters particularly its lawful obligations around subject access requests. These enquiries are ongoing.”

The ICO’s data only said whether a complaint had been made about a political party, not its decision on whether the party had complied with data protection legislation.

Data protection experts said that when organisations failed to make their data readily accessible, it was often a sign of larger failings.

The Labour Party office is based in Victoria in London
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The Labour Party office is based in Victoria in London

“It’s very worrying when any organisation doesn’t fulfil subject access requests from the individual’s point of view they don’t get to see their information and how it’s being used,” said Rowenna Fielding, senior data protection lead at Protecture Ltd.

“It’s also worrying from an organisation point of view because indicates there’s something going very wrong in their processes or perhaps their information architecture, which could indicate very serious problems to come down the line,” she added.

Of the nine political parties featured in the ICO’s figures, three – Change UK, the Democratic Unionist Party and Plaid Cymru – had no complaints against them.

The Liberal Democrats had nine complaints, the Scottish National Party had 10, the Green Party had two, and the Scottish Conservative Party had one.

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