COUNCILS MAKING A BUNDLE FROM YOUR PERSONAL DETAILS – With the era of the internet and all things electronic, this age has certainly resulted in us all losing out on privacy.
With plethora of social networking websites and government forms being filled out we simply can no longer expect the level of privacy and anonymity we were once afford in the age where our personal information was kept on hand written records.
Some people are however scratching their heads as to why they appear to be getting so much junk mail through the post; often we ask ourselves ‘where on earth do these people find out our names and addresses?’
For a large part of all the junk mail you receive this can be blamed directly on your local council for it has been revealed that they are selling off personal data to private companies.
Junk mail can be the bane of our existence and with the ecology in mind it is often infuriating to think that a tree was felled in order to produce the rubbish that we will have to pay our councils to dispose of.
The source of your details is held on the electoral register and under current legislation anyone may ask to see the register. However, local councils long ago latched onto the idea that personal data could be sold to any company willing to pay for it.
With the electronic age the selling of personal data is even easier; the council simply supplies marketing data houses with a list and marking companies then purchase sections of the list in order to reach their target market.
There is a way that you can stop your personal information from being sold and that is by specifically opting-out; all paper and online form must, by law, allow you to restrict the spread of your data – that is it being sold to a third party.
Of course if you do not bother to tick the box that specifically requests that your personal data is not sold on then you can expect your data to be sold on hundreds of times in any one year; which means your mailbox is going to be stuffed to the nines with junk mail.
This particular money making practice by local councils was recently released by the privacy pressure group Big Brother Watch, who simply labeled the practice as little more than a scam.
The report revealed that some councils were making upward of £250,000; over a five year period and sold private date to nearly 3,000 companies.
The catch here is that some councils have tried to introduce an automatic opt-out; that is anyone completing the electoral register for example would have to check a box that specifically allows council’s holding the data to sell it on.
However, these council’s have faced legal action in order to revert it back to where a person has to uncheck a box to opt-out; this is due to legislation that specifically lays out how a registration form must be set.
Big Brother Watch has expressed concerns over this practice and after delivering their report to the Electoral Commission, the Commission agreed that such a practice could be damaging for democracy.
“The Electoral Commission does not support the commercial sale of any details provided for the purposes of electoral registration and we are concerned that it may act as a deterrent to some people registering to vote.
Voters should be aware that if they do not want their details to be included in the edited register which is available for general sale, then they can tick the “opt out” box on their registration form.” Electoral Commission spokesman
The idea of the electoral register is so that everyone has the opportunity to vote and yet if council’s are allow to sell the data then this could be seen as a ‘breach of trust’ and where the public have little trust in the system it could result in the decline of registered voters.
Some privacy advocates are calling for a ban on council’s being allowed to sell private data altogether whilst others are saying that the ‘opt-out’ box should be much larger and prominent so that it brings the form filler’s attention to the fact that their data can, and will be, sold if they do not check the opt-out box. What we need is more transparency in the system.
It is widely known that local councils continue to come up with ways to extract more money from its residence; from increased parking fines to emptying the bins.
Remember, the next time you receive any government form from your local council to ensure you check the opt-out box – this will save you from being bombarded with junk mail and in the process save our trees.