In 2008 a review of Government data handling recommended the scrapping of the “Edited” version of the Electoral Roll which is sold to direct marketers. Now HM Govt. is consulting on six “Edited Register” options. Lee Rubin reports.
Topic: Direct Marketing
Who: Ministry of Justice
When: 24 November 2009
Law stated as at: December 2009
The Ministry of Justice has published a public consultation paper on the future of the Edited Register after a review of Government data handling recommended that it be scrapped.
In response to the Data Sharing Review, carried out last year by the-then Information Commissioner Richard Thomas and Dr Mark Walport, which called for the abolition of the Edited Register, the Government has now laid out six options ranging from the immediate abolition of the register to doing nothing more than increase public awareness of it, and has requested responses to its consultation.
The consultation closes on 23 February 2010 and the Ministry of Justice intends to publish a paper summarising the responses to the consultation in May 2010.
The Edited Register came into existence in 2002 when the Government introduced the Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations to establish a new framework governing access to and the supply and sale of electoral registers. Since then there have been two versions of the electoral register: a full version and an edited version of the full register (the "Edited Register"). The Edited Register shows only the names and addresses of those on the full register who have not 'opted-out' of inclusion in the edited version.
Unlike the full electoral register, the supply and use of which is strictly regulated by law, the Edited Register is available for sale to anyone for any purpose. The Edited Register is used by a number of groups like charities and businesses for a variety of purposes, including compiling mailing lists for direct marketing.
The Government has made it very clear that it takes the issues of data protection, the privacy of citizens and democratic engagement, including electoral registration, very seriously, and it has highlighted concerns about data sharing. Importantly, the Government considers that the language used on electoral registration forms do not properly inform the public about either the existence of the Edited Register or their ability to be excluded from it. This creates a risk that people are not sufficiently aware that data provided on electoral registration forms could be sold or that they have a choice about whether they could be included on the Edited Register.
A further risk is that people do not realise that they have been entered onto the Edited Register because they missed their opportunity to 'opt-out'. This is of particular concern given that the Edited Register can be sold to anyone for any purpose and as such, individuals lose control of their proprietary rights over the personal data if they do not opt out of inclusion.
The Government has accepted the findings of the 2008 review that members of the public are often insufficiently aware of the existence and uses of the Edited Register and considers that some reform of the current arrangements is desirable. In light of this the consultation does not propose a 'do nothing' option.
Instead, the Government has identified the following options for the future of the Edited Register:
Options abolishing the Edited Register
- Option 1: Abolish the Edited Register as soon as practicable.
- Option 2: Set a timescale or trigger for abolition of the Edited Register.
- Option 3: Abolish the Edited Register as soon as practicable, but extend access to the full electoral register for other purposes to be decided.
Options retaining the Edited Register
- Option 4: Retain the Edited Register, but impose restrictions in legislation on who can purchase it and for what purposes
- Option 5: Replace the current 'opt-out' provision for an 'opt-in'.
- Option 6: Improve guidance for the public about the Edited Register.
Why this matters:
Obviously, abolition of the Edited Register would mean that it would no longer be available to those businesses and charities which currently use it. There are, of course, alternative sources of information available to those currently using the Edited Register, but direct marketers have indicated that the Edited Register is likely to be the cheapest source of information of this kind.
The Government is yet to be convinced of the best course of action and does not wish to make a final decision to act until all the available evidence about the potential impact of abolition has been considered carefully. But, if the Government does take the decision to abolish the Edited Register, it is likely that many direct marketing businesses will need to innovate and change their existing methods and practices. Any lead in time to abolition could give them much needed time to consider and develop their options.
The full text of the consultation paper can be found at: