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Councils in Devon and Cornwall accused of selling our private information

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 02, 2013

Comments (9)

Westcountry councils have been accused of breaching the privacy of hundreds of thousands of residents by selling their names and addresses.

The authorities sold the information on the edited electoral role to dozens of companies, charities and individuals.

Privacy campaigner Big Brother Watch (BBW), which compiled the study from Freedom of Information requests, called for a change in the law.

But local authorities said their hands were tied – and said anyone can have their name removed from the edited version of the electoral register, which is available for sale.

Cornwall Council cabinet member Alex Folkes, portfolio holder for finance and resources, said: "It is unfair to blame the council for sales of the register and any subsequent junk mail people may receive when the council is just following the law," he said.

According to BBW, Cornwall Council sold versions of the edited electoral role six times, including to Ocean Housing, Coast, and Estuary Cottages, making a total of £154 from the deals.

Mr Folkes said the authority had followed the law by producing two versions of the electoral register – one used on polling day and an edited version which may be sold to organisations or individuals.

He said anyone on the roll could opt out of the edited version by simply ticking a box.

Authorities were unable to alter the forms, and providing further information advising people of this would be a costly endeavour for the council, he said, adding: "I would rather pay for adult care."

According to BBW, councils sold the edited electoral register – made of up all those people who register to vote and do not opt out of the edited version – to organisations as varied as estate agents, lobbyists and solicitors, among others.

Plymouth City Council sold the edited roll six times, including to J Thorpe Furniture and Plymstock Parish Church for a total of £407.

A spokesman for the authority said: "All councils need to follow the statutes and regulations relating to electoral registration.

"The Electoral Commission website sets out the legal position and clearly indicates that there are two versions of the electoral register and that the edited version has to be available for general sale and can be used for commercial activities such as marketing. We provide an 'opt out' box on our registration form for residents who wish their name to be kept off the edited version of the electoral reg-ister."

West Devon District Council sold the roll eight times, including to Okehampton East Residents Association and communications consultancy JBP Associates Ltd, , making a total of £278.

A spokesman for West Devon District Council said the report produced by BBW would be scrutinised. "We will be noting the report and looking at the figures," he said.

According to BBW:

Exeter City Council made six sales of the edited register for a total of £647.

The Isles of Scilly Council sold the register once to an individual for an undisclosed sum.

Mid Devon District Council was paid £570 for sales to "unspecified" customers.

South Hams District Council sold the edited register 19 times, to 15 individuals and others including Dartington Hall. The sum paid was not detailed.

Teignbridge Council was paid £258 for an unspecified number of sales.

Torridge sold the roll twice to a marketing company and solicitors firm for £142.

Devon County Council, and district councils covering East and North Devon and Torbay, all said they were not responsible for electoral roll data or did not hold the information.

BBW director Nick Pickles said: "Registering to vote is a basic part of our democracy and should not be a back door for our names and addresses to be sold to anyone and everyone.

"Many people don't realise that the pizza shops and estate agents drowning their doorsteps with junk mail are able to do so because their local council is forced to sell the names of every voter who fails to tick the right box when they register to vote."

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  • KesTFal  |  September 06 2013, 9:18PM

    Cornwall Council cabinet member Alex Folkes, portfolio holder for finance and resources, said: "It is unfair to blame the council for sales of the register and any subsequent junk mail people may receive when the council is just following the law," he said. - I wonder were I've heard that excuse before?

  • ArtfulDodger  |  September 04 2013, 8:10AM

    @TopMinstrel Council staff haven't has a pay rise in 4 years and have all had their pensions cut recently, the average wage for Council Staff is considerably less than that of the private sector. Please look at the facts before making ill informed comments

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  • Nevman  |  September 03 2013, 9:46AM

    Follow the link. Read the article. There IS an opt-opt. There always was. And I always have.

  • bikerlad707  |  September 03 2013, 7:14AM

    by Nevman, ok you may well be right on that ! but there has to be an opt _out in that you do have the right to change . and if that's the case we can all do the same . come on try , dont sit back and let them do as they want . show determination as ( Charlie Brown ) said !

    |   1
  • Nevman  |  September 03 2013, 6:41AM

    Yes, bikerlad. It's true. It's been true for years. And they told you this on the electoral registration form. http://tinyurl.com/nfz3gnm Good luck with your court case. If you didn't opt out because you didn't read the form, you gave your consent.

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  • bikerlad707  |  September 02 2013, 10:16PM

    well if I find out this to be true , ill be looking to take whoever it is to court . they are only to use our names & addresses for council use only , not sell them off . so lets start in asking if its true . then the battle will commence

    |   -6
  • Nevman  |  September 02 2013, 7:34PM

    Nothing new here! This non-story is a shadow of the front page of today's Daily Fail. Some journo hack has finally got round to reading the explanatory notes on their electoral registration form, realised they should have been opting out for years and promptly gone off on one instead of blaming themselves for not reading the form properly. This was no big secret. People just don't bother to read things. Perhaps the Fail - and the Herald - would like to reassure us that they don't sell on our details if we don't tick the opt-out box on their websites? No, thought not.

    |   10
  • whiterabbit68  |  September 02 2013, 1:12PM

    Typical liberal scare tactics. Big brovver knows your name, big brovver knows where you live, yes, so do the post office, everyone I know, utility compamies etc. Stop trying to get your liberal policies in by trying to scare people. The real bullies here sre the libersls and BBW, what a ridiculous childish name.

    |   -3
  • TopMinstrel  |  September 02 2013, 11:32AM

    So much for 'Caring Councils'. I think we can confidently say that the personal details of all councillors and council staff will naturally be kept confidential, after all it is not for Joe public to know what they are up to even if it is our taxes that allow them to enjoy their lifestyle and pensions.

    |   -5