Information commissioner says data was voluntarily deleted amid concerns about ‘weak’ enforcement
The Conservative party acted illegally when it collected data on the ethnic backgrounds of 10 million voters ahead of the 2019 general election, the information commissioner has told a committee of MPs.
However, Elizabeth Denham insisted there had been no need to issue an enforcement notice against the party, as it had voluntary deleted the data it held after a “recommendation” from her office.
Answering questions at a Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee meeting on Tuesday morning, Denham said that the Conservatives’ collection of estimated data on voters’ ethnic origin, religion, and country of birth had no legal basis.
“We made the recommendation that they destroy the data because they didn’t have a legal basis to collect it,” she said, adding, under sustained questioning from the SNP MP John Nicolson: “It was illegal to collect the ethnicity data.”
The breach was first highlighted in November in a report by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), assessing political parties’ compliance with data protection laws. It reported that the Conservatives had purchased so-called estimated onomastic data – which attempts to identify individuals’ ethnic origin, religion, country of birth and other characteristics, based on their first and last names – and appended it to the records of 10 million people.
The Conservative party has a history of the controversial use of such data. In 2016, Zac Goldsmith’s Conservative party campaign for London mayor was accused of trying to exploit anti-Muslim sentiment among Hindu, Sikh