The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined Vote Leave Limited £40,000 for sending out thousands of unsolicited text messages in the run up to the 2016 EU referendum.

An ICO investigation found that Vote Leave sent 196,154 text messages promoting the aims of the Leave campaign with the majority containing a link to its website.

The investigation also found that Vote Leave was unable to provide evidence that the people who received the messages had given their consent; a key requirement of electronic marketing law.

ICO Director of Investigations, Steve Eckersley, said:

“Spam texts are a real nuisance for millions of people and we will take action against organisations who disregard the law.

“Direct marketing is not just about selling products and services, it’s also about promoting an organisation’s aims and ideals.

“Political campaigns and parties, like any other organisations, have to comply with the law.”

Vote Leave claimed the information it had used to contact people was obtained from enquiries which had come through their website; from individuals who had responded via text to promotional leaflets; and from entrants to a football competition.

However, the organisation said that following the conclusion of the referendum campaign it had deleted evidence of the consent relied upon to send the messages. Also deleted were details of the phone numbers the messages were sent from, the volume of messages sent, and the volume of messages received.

The ICO publishes detailed guidance on political campaigning and direct marketing explaining the legal obligations organisations have to comply with the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

This latest fine is part of the ICO’s ongoing investigation into the use of data in political campaigns. As a result of the investigation the ICO has taken action against a number of different organisations engaged in campaigning for breaches of direct marketing and data protection laws.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  3. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) give people specific privacy rights in relation to electronic communications. There are specific rules on:
    • marketing calls, emails, texts and faxes;
    • cookies (and similar technologies);
    • keeping communications services secure; and
    • customer privacy as regards traffic and location data, itemised billing, line identification, and directory listings.
    • The ICO aims to help organisations comply with PECR and promote good practice by offering advice and guidance. The ICO will take enforcement action against organisations that persistently ignore their obligations.
  4. The ICO has the power under PECR to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
  5. Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
  6. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the ICO.
  7. To report a concern to the ICO, visit ico.org.uk/concerns.