Direct marketeers slam data protection Catch 22

Marketing companies claim that new restrictions on the use of the electoral register will risk putting them in breach of their...

Marketing companies claim that new restrictions on the use of the electoral register will risk putting them in breach of their obligations under the Data Protection Act to maintain accurate databases.

Councils are refusing to make copies of the electoral register available to direct marketing firms following a court decision last year prohibiting the sale of the register for commercial use.

The Direct Marketing Association, which represents 1,000 organisations, is pressing the Government to create an exemption for direct marketing companies, giving them the right to use the electoral register to maintain accurate databases.

Colin Lloyd, president of the association, said that, without access to the electoral roll, marketing firms would be hard-pressed to fulfil their obligation under the Data Protection Act to maintain accurate records.

"We are required to maintain accurate data records and keep records up to date. We need to be mindful of identifying the deceased and also under the Act, we have to respect the position of minors. Having access to the full electoral roll allows us to comply," Lloyd said.

Although marketing companies could use a variety of commercial databases, none match the quality and depth of the electoral roll, he said.

"If we are denied access to the full roll we will have to take a commercial view that will increase the cost of marketing. The quality will not be the same and smaller companies will be priced out of direct marketing," he said.

The association is pressing the Department of Transport Local Government and the Regions to include the exemption in draft regulations on the use of the electoral roll, expected to be published after Easter.

But the association's claims have attracted opposition from the information commissioner Elizabeth France. She told MPs and IT directors last month that the data on the electoral register will have only limited value in keeping commercial databases up to date.

Electoral roll data rapidly becomes out of date once it is collected, making it inadequate for cleaning customer databases, France said.

She added that she has called on the Government to limit use of the electoral register to fewer organisations.

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