Information Commissioner's Office
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ICO warns marketing rules must be kept to during lead up to Scottish referendum

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has set down an early marker warning the Scottish referendum campaign groups that they must comply with electronic marketing rules in the lead up to next year’s referendum vote on 18 September 2014.

The ICO’s warning comes as the campaign group, Better Together, signed an undertaking after sending 300,000 text messages to individuals without checking whether they had given their consent to be contacted. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) that cover electronic marketing including text messages, calls and emails, require organisations to have a person’s consent before sending them marketing text messages.

ICO Assistant Commissioner for Scotland, Ken Macdonald, said:

“The Scottish referendum is an important issue, and we understand why both sides of the debate want to communicate with potential voters. But it is absolutely crucial that they continue to do so in a manner that respects the rules that exist to protect consumers.

“If people consider the messages or calls they are receiving to be causing them a nuisance, there is a real danger that they will not only lose faith with the group who sent the message, but will lose interest in the entire process. There’s no room to get this wrong and we hope the action taken against Better Together today sends out a warning that campaigners involved in the referendum debate must not unlawfully pester and annoy people with unwanted text messages.”

In total, Better Together sent 300,000 messages to individuals in Scotland urging them to complete a survey confirming how they intended to vote. The messages were sent out by a third party marketing company on 22 March 2013 and 27 April 2013. On both occasions, the campaign group failed to check whether the recipients had provided their consent to be contacted, believing that the consent had been obtained by another company working on their behalf. The ICO received 61 complaints about the text messages prompting its investigation.

The second round of text messages were sent out despite Better Together and Yes Scotland receiving a letter from the ICO in early April 2013 warning them about the need to comply with the law. The ICO has produced detailed guidance for campaign groups explaining their requirements under data protection and electronic marketing rules.

The ICO regulates the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 throughout the UK. It also regulates the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. In Scotland, freedom of information is a devolved matter and Scottish public authorities are subject to both the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 and the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 which are regulated by the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner based in St Andrews.

View a PDF of the Better Together undertaking

Notes to Editors

1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
2. The ICO is on
Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Read more in the ICO blog and e-newsletter. Our Press Office page provides more information for journalists.
3. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:

• Fairly and lawfully processed
• Processed for limited purposes
• Adequate, relevant and not excessive
• Accurate and up to date
• Not kept for longer than is necessary
• Processed in line with your rights
• Secure
• Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection

4. The ICO’s Guide to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations provides organisations with practical advice on how to comply with the law that covers electronic marketing messages.

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