British DM Industry Reels at Shock ‘Human Rights’ Ruling by Court

21 November 2001

The sale for marketing use of personal data from the nation’s electoral register is a breach of the European Human Rights Act, a British judge ruled Monday.

The landmark ruling followed proceedings brought by a citizen of Wakefield, Yorkshire. Brian Robertson issued a writ against his local council after it refused to confirm that his name and address would not be sold to commercial companies without his consent.

Citizen Robertson accordingly refused to register, thereby infringing the law as well as disenfranchising himself. The provision of data for commercial use without his knowledge or consent, his lawyer argued, was a breach of Robertson’s right to private life and privacy.

Judge Maurice Kay agreed, ruling that the interference with Robertson's private life was disproportionate and unjustified.

The UK Direct Marketing Association saw it differently.

“The problem is that there is a misunderstanding on the part of the public on what you have to do to avoid direct marketing,” said DMA legal affairs manager Jodie Sangster. “Mr Robertson took his name off the electoral register, which is unlawful, to stop himself from receiving direct marketing. He should have signed himself to a mail preference list - anyone who signs up for this will get their names taken off mailing lists."

Robert Mayes, communications director at Britain's largest dm agency WWAV Rapp Collins took a different but equally defensive tack: “There are certain uses of electoral roll information that are in the public interest such as credit ratings. The reality is that without the use of the electoral roll, people wouldn't get credit because the risk would be too high for businesses.”

In 2002, the government will amend the electoral register, enabling individuals to opt out of commercial use of their personal data.

News source: CampaignLive (UK)