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The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has warned the Liberal Democrats to stop using automated phone calls or face possible prosecution.

Last week the party made around 250,000 calls that featured a recorded message from LibDems leader Nick Clegg to UK households across the country.

The UK's data watchdog found (pdf) that the 30-second automated message from Clegg was “in breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations,” because the calls constituted “direct marketing” by the party.

The Commissioner’s office said it also received complaints from individuals who were narked off with the LibDems making the early evening calls to their home phone numbers.

“The ICO has consistently made clear that the promotion of a political party counts as marketing. We have previously issued detailed guidance to all major political parties on this subject,” said Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith.

“Many people find unsolicited automated calls particularly intrusive and annoying so it is important that any organisation making such calls ensures that individuals have given their consent before they are targeted.”

The ICO issued the LibDems with an Enforcement Notice today in which it ordered the party to stop using automated marketing calls within 30 days or face prosecution if it ignores the warning.

The LibDems also have the right to appeal against the Information Commissioner’s order within 28 days.

Prior to the calls being made last week, the Scottish National Party (SNP) filed a formal complaint with the ICO about the phone messages.

The SNP had its knuckles rapped by the ICO three years ago for making automated marketing calls to Scottish households without gaining prior consent. Ironically, the LibDems had been among the voices of dissent against the SNP’s unsolicited automated calls. ®

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