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11 July, 2008

Chink of light?

Ostensibly for voter registration but primarily for taxation, all (adult) residents of the UK are obliged to submit personal details to the Council-administered Electoral Roll.

The result is an annually-updated database for government purposes and a slightly-abridged database which is sold on to private companies for commercial purposes. One can opt out of the edited register, and of course I do, but these things should always be opt-in, never opt-out, and the whole idea of the state obliging citizens to populate a spammers' address database is deeply distasteful.

The BBC reports that a 'government-commissioned review' doesn't like it either:

"We feel that selling the edited register is an unsatisfactory way for local authorities to treat personal information," [Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner] said. "It sends a particularly poor message to the public that personal information collected for something as vital as participation in the democratic process can be sold to anyone for any purpose."
This mightn't be a particularly strong precedent to use against data-sharing between branches of government, but it's a start: an acknowledgement that private information isn't something to treat frivolously.

For more mundane reasons the Local Government Association concurs, since the hassle of having to administer two registers in return for a paltry £5 per thousand names doesn't even make financial sense. They squarely blame central government, with the implication that the 'for advertisers' database could be abolished.

So. A potential boost to the principle of privacy and a potential blow to direct marketers. A good day.

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