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Brexit Campaigners Fined For Sending 500,000 Spam EU Referendum Texts

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Campaign group that backs European exit fined for spam messages, but it tells TechweekEurope ICO has got it wrong

A campaign group calling for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union (EU) has been fined by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for sending out more than 500,000 spam texts urging people to support is cause.

The ICO ruled that Better for the Country Ltd, which is campaigning under the name Leave.EU, did not have the consent of the people it sent text messages to, and it fined the group £50,000 for failing to follow the rules about sending marketing messages.

Spam Penalty

 

spam - Shutterstock: © FuzzBones“Political parties and campaign groups must follow the same rules as anyone else. That means they must have people’s permission before sending them text messages,” said Stephen Eckersley, ICO Head of Enforcement.

“Better for the Country did not have permission to send these messages. After considering all the options we decided that enforcement action was necessary.”

The ICO said Better for the Country had obtained the phone numbers from a third party supplier and that any organisation that buys marketing lists must make rigorous checks to satisfy themselves that the third party has obtained the data fairly and lawfully and has the necessary consent.

“In this case that meant the individuals should have been given an explanation which clearly made them aware that they could receive promotional messages from the organisation’s political campaign,” said the ICO.

It said that most of the recipients had agreed to receive messages about leisure, home improvements and insurance, but not about EU politics.

“The consent wasn’t clear. Local and national government was as specific as it got, there was no mention of leaving the EU,” said Eckersley.

But Leave.EU has told TechweekEurope that it thinks the ICO has got the ruling wrong.

“We will be appealing this ICO judgement,” said Leave.EU in a emailed statement.

“We hired a reputable data company to act on our behalf, who for some reason were not fined by the ICO even though they gave us written assurances that the data was opt in data in line with ICO rules,” said the campaign group. “We think the ICO have got this wrong.”

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Stay Or Go

The Brexit campaign meanwhile continues as the country heads towards the vote on 23 June.

The remain campaign seems to have gathered most of the backing from the tech industry of late. Last month for example hundreds of technology-based start-ups and entrepreneurs signed an open letter warning against the economic impact if the country voted to leave the European Union.

netsuiteAnd industry body TechUK recently conducted a survey that found that 70 percent of UK technology firms would want to remain in the EU, with many saying that the membership helps British firms be more attractive to international investment and gives the UK a better deal in its trading relationship with other members.

London’s technology community has also signalled its backing for the Remain vote, with a survey of Tech London Advocates members finding that 87 percent opposed a possible Brexit, again believing that membership of the EU boosts the UK economy by making it more attractive to international businesses looking to operate in Britain.

Even Sir Stephen Hawking has signalled his opposition to the move, signing a letter to the Times newspaper alongside 150 other members of the Royal Society, saying that a Brexit would be a “disaster” for British science.

But Peter Whittle, the UKIP candidate for the London major election, said that he believed that London’s tech sector would be better off if the UK was no longer a member of the European Union (EU).

He cited the excess regulation and directives from the EU that British businesses have to deal with.

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