Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has announced the initiation of a formal investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes, taking into account last year’s EU referendum campaign and potentially broader election campaigns in the UK.
Building on an assessment initiated in March of the data protection risks arising from the use of data analytics that also took into account effects on political parties and campaigns, Denham said there was a clear need for transparency in the use of personal data.
Although unrelated to next month’s general election, she stressed that candidates and political organizations were required to comply with the law after writing to a number of parties with the ICO’s updated guidelines on campaigning and data usage.
Amid concerns and reports about the types of information that is collected and then used to target voters in specific ways, the focus of the ICO investigation will consider the “complex and rapidly evolving” use of data analytics.
Denham was particularly concerned about the limited public awareness of how their information could be used and shared by companies and parties. She warned that without a clearer understanding of the use and legal implications of these tools in the political process, there could be significant potential impacts that could undermine individuals’ privacy.
“Given the big data revolution, it is understandable that political campaigns are exploring the potential of advanced data analysis tools to win votes,” said the information commissioner on a blog.
“The public has the right to expect this to be done in accordance with the law on data protection and electronic marketing.”
Denham described the work as a “high priority” for the ICO to ensure companies are operating in compliance with UK laws and electoral regulations and said an update of the data regulator’s findings is expected later this year.
“Shedding light on such practices requires detailed investigative work and collaboration with a range of organizations – political parties and campaigns, data companies and social media platforms, and international collaboration,” she added.