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Scottish nationalists on privacy rap

Connery calls over the line

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The Information Commissioner has given the Scottish National Party (SNP) an official reprimand for using Sir Sean Connery to violate the privacy of its constituents with a plea for their votes in the 2005 general election.

The SNP had made unsolicited telephone marketing calls with a message recorded by celebrity nationalist Sir Sean Connery. It had offended the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (2003) by making wholly automated marketing calls.

It offended them further when Sir Sean's pleas for votes were made through the telephones of people who had registered with the Telephone Preference Service, a log that forbids telephone marketers from going anywhere near them.

This is not the first time Sir Sean's name has been linked to nuisance marketing in the name of the SNP. Last time it was spam-a-friend emails.

The SNP had appealed against the Information Commissioner's attempt to give it an Enforcement Notice, an official slap on the wrist. But the appeal was rejected by the Information Tribunal in Edinburgh last Wednesday, a decision that was published yesterday, and has been followed up with a smart rebuke. It appeared the SNP had tried to wriggle out of it by claiming a political party should have some sort of special privilege to trespass on people's privacy.

Deputy information commissioner Phil Jones said in a statement the decision had helped ensure political parties complied with the regulations.

"If [the SNP's] view that promotional calls by political parties are not direct marketing calls had been upheld, then neither they, nor any other political party, would have to take account of the rules on unsolicited marketing," he said.

Unscrupulous methods had allowed the SNP to bend the ear of more voters than it had ever managed by not sticking to the rules of decent conduct laid out by privacy laws. A spokeswoman said the party would not be seeking a further appeal.

Bruce Crawford MSP said in a statement how disappointed he was that the IC prevented political parties from using the "cost effective" and "quick" means to contact potential voters.

The party had received just four complaints "out of half a million calls", he said, adding that he had asked the IC in writing how it would see that the SNP's political rivals would keep within the regulations as well.

It is now a criminal offence for the SNP to break the enforcement notice. If it cannot make do without making unwanted telephone calls, it could always get around the system in the same way other unscrupulous marketers do, by having Sir Sean's recorded message dial in from some offshore haven.

The decision is expected to copied on the Information Tribunal's website soon. ®

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