The Purge

Throughout the campaign for the Labour leadership, various people applying to be registered supporters have had their applications rejected. The list is varied, from the film director Ken Loach and the comedian Mark Steel, through to the human equivalent of genital herpes, Toby Young. Those registering to be supporters must agree that they support the aims and ideals of the Labour Party: Loach and Steel have explicitly and recently advocated voting for other parties, while Young is a high-profile Conservative. I’m not going to lose any sleep, frankly. However, in the past couple of days, a substantial number of less well-known people have received similar missives – some were recently candidates for other parties so Labour’s ban may have some merit. But others are just ordinary people on the left. Some of them are critics of austerity, some may have said that they are voting for the Greens or the Trades Union and Socialist Coalition, or just slagged off the Labour leadership online. I think Tony Blair is a war criminal and have said so often, so I still wonder if my vote yesterday counts. Is that acceptable for Labour High Command in the current climate?

The Data Protection problem for Labour is that when we signed up to be registered supporters, there was no clear fair processing information explaining that we would be vetted or how this would be done. Some form of vetting has clearly happened – I’ve even seen copies of emails and Facebook posts that suggest a full-on witch-hunt for anyone who isn’t an uncritical supporter of the party. I’m not sure whether these are real, but there are a lot of them.

As I have previously written, Labour does not need consent to look at websites and Twitter accounts. Even though the stuff on Twitter is sensitive personal data as it relates to political opinions, Data Protection allows for sensitive data to be used if it has been put into the public domain by the data subject. Furthermore, I agree that Labour has a legitimate interest in preventing full-on Tories from voting. This means that they can rely on the ‘legitimate interest’ justification to use personal data. However, they are required not to cause unwarranted prejudice to the rights and freedoms of data subjects when doing so. This is all part of the first Data Protection principle. I believe that legitimate interest requires the vetting process to be carried out objectively and accurately. Without some form of appeal, I think the rights and freedoms of the data subjects have been prejudiced.

More fundamentally, Labour must also process data fairly. The blurb for registered supporters was thin, so as someone who signed up, I have no idea what process was gone through. Even if you are one of those (wrong) people who thinks that trawling Twitter doesn’t engage Data Protection, receiving and acting on tip-offs and reports isn’t just disturbingly McCarthyite, it would be a breach of the Data Protection Act unless registered supporters were told. There are in fact a host of potential problems (accuracy, relevance, security), but the fairness one is enough because it is insurmountable. We should have been told – we weren’t.

Even if you think such a process would be legitimate, there is no exemption from the Data Protection Act, nothing that allows Labour to do these things secretly. The exemptions in Data Protection cover legal proceedings, criminal investigations, cases referred to regulators – situations where handling personal data secretly can be justified. None of the exemptions applies to the kind of process currently at work in the Labour Party. The foundation stone of Data Protection is fairness and transparency – letting people know how their data is used, so that they can ensure it is used properly. Not for the first time, the Labour Party is acting secretively, and so I have not faith in the vetting process. I suspect it breaches the first Data Protection principle.

Data Protection gives every person a right of subject access, a right to request copies of their personal data held by any organisation. In this case, the data on which the decision was made to ban a person from voting in the leadership election will undoubtedly be personal data. Admittedly, Labour could claim that no data was recorded, but this would reveal that process to be slapdash in the extreme.

Therefore, my advice to anyone rejected by the Labour Party is as follows: make a subject access request. Find out what it was that made Labour reject you, and then publicise that. Expose this process, and dig it over. Labour did not want this to be a transparent process, but they cannot stop you from finding out what happened in your case.

To make a subject access request, you need three things:

  1. A written request, setting out your name, address and the email address you registered with as a supporter
  2. Proof of your ID. Send a copy of a passport or driving license and ask them to destroy it when they have validated your request. They can refuse to deal with your request without proof of ID, so don’t give them the opportunity to delay by asking for it
  3. A cheque for £10. Having already lost the £3 supporter fee, this will be annoying, but I doubt Labour will accept a subject access request without the statutory fee, and they can refuse to process the request without it. If you want to know what happened (or find out that it was a flawed process), you will have to sacrifice the tenner. If they are feeling generous, they won’t cash the cheque. The Information Commissioner cannot order them to waive the fee, so don’t waste your time asking them.

You may well want to send this by recorded or registered post, which ratchets up your costs even more. If you are throwing your hands up in despair at spending another £12, I’m sorry. I didn’t say you would like my advice. Explain clearly and simply that you want all of the personal data held about you as a registered supporter, including any and all information that was used to ban you from voting. You are entitled to a permanent copy of the data. It is unlikely they will tell you the names of those involved in the decision, but the reasons you have been banned must be made available. It doesn’t matter of hundreds of Labour supporters make a subject access request at once – there is no provision to refuse vexatious requests, and the Information Commissioner’s Code of Practice on Subject Access makes clear to organisations that they must be prepared to respond to peaks in demand.

Subject Access is an imperfect tool: organisations sometimes don’t record the information you expect them to. But Labour took their supporters’ money and then denied many of them a vote. Either they have to account for these decisions, or admit that they have not done so fairly. Those calling for the election to be halted to avoid a Corbyn victory should be full-throated in their demands that the banned should either get a proper explanation as required by Data Protection, or the vote should instead be halted until a proper process is undergone.

The address Labour publish to contact their Data Protection Officer is

Compliance Unit, Labour Party, One Brewer’s Green, London, SW1H 0RH

If you go for it, good luck. Drop me a line and let me know how you get on.

Comments

  1. I really can’t justify even the £10 outlay given my current circumstances, and would in any event begrudge any organisation which had behaved in such bad faith and so opaquely even one crudely counterfeited £1. That said, could we not submit multiple SARs, from multiple ‘rejectees’, in one envelope and covered by a singular £10 cheque? I know this is the case were the police are concerned (in the sense that a party to an alleged crime or incident can request records from multiple incidents spanning years as well ass copies of a third party’s statements with their written permission), but maybe this is a courtesy extended by the much less corrupt, and more transparent police service. 😉

    • It’s an application fee per request. Even if three members of a family made requests at the same time, it would be £10 per head. Nice try, but I don’t think it will work!

      • Oh well, worth a punt. To be honest, I expected as much. Looks like Labour’s churlish higher ups I going to get away scot free in my case. I also suspect that plenty of others who can afford the £12 will shy away out of a sense of resigned disgust too. I hope not though; the truths of this purge need to be outed.

        P.S. Apologies for any duplicate posts; WP was playing silly buggers with LastPass (or vice versa). Feel free to reject in moderation as appropriate.

  2. helensandler says:

    Or just phone them up and ask them the reason. That’s what I did and they told me. The woman who answered the phone looked up my name and said: ”We have evidence from Twitter that you are a supporter of Plaid Cymru.” She said I could email leadership2015@labour.org.uk about it so I have.

    • I’m sure it’s worth trying to call, although I know some people have had trouble getting through. Subject Access is clearly a more serious step for people who really want to see what went on.

    • I tried calling yesterday, I was met with the sort of automatic party drone response that makes one want to weep when it comes from a help or customer service line. I don’t envy these telephone band operator/slaves, I bet they’re kept on a tight leash/script.

      Anyway, I was informed that he couldn’t even clue me in on why I’d been rejected, much less provide a run down of the evidence or any sort of appeals procedure (it doesn’t look like the Labour party was prepared for this at all – they bloody well should have been). I was a registered supporter (now just a reluctantly ‘bailed-in’ £3 donor), but I understand that full members have proper redress and a real appeals process in place. That was the only avenue offered me, to upgrade to full member (I declined, as I don’t have the disposable income, or any income at all at the moment, to justify doubling down like that).

      Are you a full member @helensandler, or is it just a matter of getting hold of the right person (someone with imagination, gusto and a willingness to rebel! 😉). Also, does anyone know if affiliated supporters (as distinct from registered supporters) have any kind of formal appeals procedure in place for them, or are shown more consideration that I was/registered supporters are? If not, that a bit of a dick move on Labour’s part – these folk and their affiliated organisation fund the party machine!

      Anyway, thanks @helensandler. You’ve inspired me to shoot of a frank and polite e-mail in the perhaps vain hope of at least discovering whether I’m a filthy Trot or a loathsome Tory in Labour’s mind.

      • helensandler says:

        I’m not a full member, no, I was going to be a £3 supporter till they turned me down so, as you say Lee, I am now a £3 donor! I just rang up and asked and the woman who answered the phone told me. I don’t know why. Maybe that was the policy that day. I haven’t had a reply to my email asking them (in no uncertain terms) to reconsider BUT my local party officials got in touch – HQ had told them which local people were disqualified – and they are trying to help me.

  3. Reblogged this on nearlydead.

  4. More interestingly for me, what about Newsnight’s comment that they are cross-referencing applications against a database of intended voting data, collected on the doorstep in the run-up to the 2015 General Election?

    I was canvassed (stated I was undecided) and I certainly do not remember consenting to this sensitive personal data being processed for these purposes.

  5. helensandler says:

    Tim, I’m not completely sure I’ve understood a pretty basic point, so can I just check. Are you saying that because we were not told we were being vetted, we should not legally have been vetted at all, including not vetted through Twitter, gossip etc etc.

    • Hi. That’s pretty much it. Even if Labour planned to search online comments or Tweets, they would still have to tell supporters or members that this was going to happen. The fact that it is in the public domain makes other bits of the Data Protection Act easier to deal with, but it does not help with the requirement to tell people how their data will be used.

  6. John Rogan says:

    Thanks for the info on here. I just went out and got a photocopy of my passport. I’m sure, when they see that, the Labour staff will say, “Hey, he’s got an honest face! How could we have ever doubted his sincerity?”

    Btw, the Labour staffer, Mike Creighton, who replies to the SAR is on Twitter. So, being nosey, I looked at his Feed ( now, where could I have got that idea from?)

    Anyway, he said he went to see “The Trial” at the “Young Vic” at the end of July. Maybe, it was a Labour Staff training session.

Trackbacks

  1. […] against you to come to its decision, you can make a subject access request. To do so, the brains at Information Law Blog […]

  2. […] Update: This legal blog has raised questions about the Data Protection issues surrounding the use of personal information to disqualify potential voters, in particular Labour officials doing this in secret. The writer advises those affected to ‘make a subject access request. Find out what it was that made Labour reject you, and then publicise that. Expose this process, and dig it over. Labour did not want this to be a transparent process, but they cannot stop you from finding out what happened in your case.’ The article then provides a step-by-step guide as to how to make such a request. […]

  3. […] has made against you to come to its decision, you can make a subject access request. To do so, the Information Law Blog explains that you will need 3 […]

  4. […] has made against you to come to its decision, you can make a subject access request. To do so, the Information Law Blog explains that you will need 3 […]

  5. The Purge - says:

    […] Source : 2040 information law blog. […]

  6. […] Tim Turner has explained on his law blog, it was also probably illegal. You can’t vet people without telling them first and no one told us […]

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