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Data watchdog received 25 election-related complaints

Over two dozen members of the public have made official complaints after politicians tried to access their personal information.

Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes
Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

THE OFFICE OF the Data Protection Commissioner has received 25 complaints in the last year regarding claims that politicians improperly accessed voters’ personal information.

A spokesman for the office of the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) told TheJournal.ie that it had received the complaints in relation to elections in the past 12 months. Apart from the general election in February a by-election was also held in Donegal in November last year.

The complaints were made about politicians who obtained the email addresses and phone numbers of members of the public from third parties for the purposes of securing their votes at election time.

Earlier this year the Data Protection Commissioner warned politicians about the practice.

The spokesman said that approximately two thirds of the 25 complaints were valid.

He said that under Section 10 of the Data Protection Act the office investigates complaints from members of the public about the “improper obtaining of their personal data”.

Despite the fact that the DPC claims such action is a “breach of data-protection laws” the spokesman said politicians cannot be prosecuted under existing legislation. Instead, he said the DPC tries to “arrange an amicable resolution to the satisfaction of the parties involved”.

He said that all but two of the valid complaints had been resolved amicably. He added that the case files regarding both complaints remained open but he could not disclose any further details on the cases.

The Sunday Times (print edition) reported yesterday that Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte enacted new legislation on Friday ending an exemption that allowed election candidates to send spam without fear of prosecution.

Under the new legislation politicians can be fined €5,000 for every unsolicited text or email they send, or phone call they make to members of the public. They can be fined a maximum of €250,000 for persistent offending.

The spokesman at the DPC also said politicians who sent unsolicited messages before Mr Rabbitte enacted the new law on July  1 could not be prosecuted, as the legislation was not retrospective.

During the recent general election campaign the DPC received over 100 complaints about unsolicited contacts.

The spokesman added that the legislation enacted by Rabbitte did not cover successful attempts by politicians to obtain personal information. He confirmed that the DPC still can not prosecute election candidates for carrying out the practice.

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