The Sale of ‘Edited’ Electoral Registers in Scotland: Implications for Citizenship, Privacy and Data Protection

 

Session: PARALLEL SESSION 6Privacy II

Date and time: 25th April 2014. (13:30‐15:00)

Authors: Charles Leleux and C.William R. Webster

The Sale of ‘Edited’ Electoral Registers in Scotland: Implications for Citizenship, Privacy and Data Protection

The proposed paper provides an assessment of the growing phenomenon in Scotland and the United Kingdom of the sale of ‘edited’ electoral registers to third parties, and reflects on the implications which this has for state and citizen relations, privacy and data protection. New legislation was introduced in Scotland in 2002 (Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2002) which requires Electoral Registration Officers to compile a separate ‘edited’ electoral register for those electors who do not wish their names included in a register which could then be sold to third parties. Comparison is made with the role of data aggregators in the United States, which according to Bennett (2013), are selling profiling information to political parties farmed from electoral registers for the targeting and canvassing of electors. Drawing upon the results of a survey of Electoral Registration Officers in Scotland, information will be provided on the sales of ‘edited’ registers since 2002 including approximate revenues and importantly the categories of organisations involved. Calls for the sale of ‘edited’ registers to be abolished have been raised by various actors, including the UK Information Commissioner, The Electoral Commission, and the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee of the UK Parliament. Contrastingly, the UK Parliament and Constitution Centre (2012) advised that support for the retention of the practice has been voiced by marketing companies, credit reference agencies and debt collection companies. Recently, a report by Big Brother Watch (September, 2013), raised concerns about the possible lack of awareness amongst electors that this practice is occurring, and that the selling of the ‘edited’ registers is possibly deterring them from voting. The practice of selling ‘edited’ electoral registers strikes at the heart of democracy in that the state has potentially eroded trust in citizen-state relations by allowing citizens’ personal information to be sold to third parties in an unrestricted and apparently haphazard manner.

References:
- Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2002
- Bennett, Colin J., First Annual CRISP Lecture, ‘The Politics of Privacy and the Privacy of Politics’, University of Edinburgh, 3 April, 2013
- University of Stirling, Survey of Electoral Registration Officers in Scotland, 2013
- House of Commons Library, Standard Note: SN/PC/06198, 6 August, 2012
- Democratic value: Exposing the scale of the commercial sale of the edited electoral roll, A Big Brother Watch report, September, 2013

 

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