The UK's privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), has served an enforcement notice on the Labour Party after it made unsolicited automated marketing calls to almost half a million individuals.
The move follows an ICO investigation that revealed the party had breached the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).
A member of the public complained in July 2007 that he had received an automated marketing telephone call from the Labour Party, despite never consenting to receive such calls. The call allegedly consisted of a recorded message from the actress Liz Dawn.
After reviewing the transcript, the ICO advised the Labour Party that it would constitute direct marketing. Labour subsequently agreed to stop making any calls using the Liz Dawn script or anything similar.
However, the ICO received further complaints in June 2009. The Scottish National Party and a member of the public reported that unsolicited automated calls, consisting of a recorded message from Liz Dawn, had been made that encouraged recipients to vote in the local and European elections.
The Labour Party confirmed that the calls were made to some 495,000 recipients in what it believed were Labour-supporting areas. It said most numbers were taken from commercial lists.
ICO deputy commissioner David Smith said the promotion of a political party counted as marketing. "We have previously issued detailed guidance to all major political parties on this subject," he said.
"The Labour Party has breached privacy rules by making automated marketing calls to individuals who have not consented to receiving such calls. The fact that the calls were targeted at what were believed to be Labour-supporting areas confirmed our view that they were designed to promote the Labour Party's electoral cause by encouraging Labour supporters to vote. Automated calls can cause annoyance and disruption, which is why it is so important for organisations making such calls to gain the consent of individuals," he said.
The enforcement notice requires Labour to ensure no further automated direct marketing calls are made without consent. Failure to comply with the enforcement notice is a criminal offence and could lead to prosecution. The Labour Party has 28 days to appeal.
The ICO served enforcement notices against the Conservative Party and the Scottish National Party in 2005, and against the Liberal Democrats in 2008.