01 August 1997

THE DATA PROTECTION Registrar is likely to investigate the Labour Party's use of its membership database following complaints from party members receiving mail touting a Labour-endorsed insurance scheme. The mail package features pictures of elderly people falling-off ladders and tripping over garden rakes! Government backbenchers, many of whom were unaware that the party had strayed into the insurance jungle, have received complaints from constituents angered by the apparent use of their personal data to peddle insurance. The Labour Party Casualty Plan, underwritten by the American International Group and administered by its subsidiary UNAT Direct, appears to target members in the 50+ age group, implying that demographic data given on membership application forms has been lifted from the party database. The forms carry no warning that the information may be passed to third parties for marketing purposes, nor is there an opt-out facility. A spokeswoman admitted that Labour receives a commission on each policy sold but insists the information is passed to third parties only on a temporary and confidential basis, with the data either returned or destroyed after use. Said David Smith, an assistant data protection registrar: 'If their details are being passed to a third party, we would expect people to be made aware of the fact and given the opportunity to withhold the information. It is something we would certainly look into if it were raised with us.'