I have corresponded with Claire Perry, MP for Devizes on a few occasions, on personal matters or on wider policy issues. In all cases I was writing to her in her role as MP and not as an individual or as a representative of the Conservative Party. I was surprised therefore to receive an e-mail from her which was part of her campaign for re-election. I replied pointing out that I believed she was in breach of data protection legislation. After further discussion on Facebook in the Devizes Debate group I have put together this post.
Lets look at the big picture first:
According to the Radicati Group’s Email Market 2012-2016 report (PDF), the total amount of emails sent worldwide on an average day is roughly 140 billion.
According to Symantec’s Intelligence November 2012 Report (PDF), 68.8% of all emails sent daily worldwide were spam.
According to a paper called “The Economics of Spam,” (PDF) by Justin M. Rao and David H. Reiley, researchers at Microsoft and Google respectively dealing with these messages adds up to a $20 billion cost in the US alone. That eleven-figure number is derived from the cost of developing the software required to filter out spam emails and the few seconds it takes to delete every spam email that isn’t successfully blocked. World wide the cost is estimated as $50 billion in lost productivity and other expenses this year, according to a report issued by Ferris Research.
On top of that the estimated cost of ‘false positive’ junk mail (emails you gave permission to receive that never actually reach you, for a variety of reasons) is estimated at €19.4 billion in Europe alone.
So it isn’t a trivial issue and for a Government Minister to be adding to this torrent, even in a small way is unacceptable.
Moving on to Claire Perry. I don’t have access at the moment to the PC on which her e-mail is sitting, so I can’t remember whether it came from her parliamentary address or her personal one. However that isn’t an issue for the point I want to make.
It is clearly unacceptable to use a government e-mail address for political campaigning. It is funded by the tax payer and to do so would mean tax payer funding to one party over the others. Assuming for the moment therefore she used her political address, this means she has copied some or all of the database from government servers to create her own mailing list. That data is not hers personally, so to that degree it could be considered theft. Creation of marketing databases can only be done on an opt-in basis, which she has not done, so that is a breach of the regulations and de facto and de jure, illegal. She has removed the name on request, which minimises the breach, but the fact remains it should not have been there in the first place.
I’m not up on electoral legislation, so it is possible that there have been additional breaches of electoral law.
Again this is not trivial. As an MP, which she presumably was when the database was created, and as a Minister in the government, she is involved in both making and implementing the law. She is not above it and should expect to be held to the same standards as the rest of us. We saw in the expenses debacle what happens when they don’t.
In summary, I believe that she, or others acting for her, have broken data protection legislation by misusing data gained in her role as MP for political purposes.
Guidance for MPs and their staff: