That SNP survey – is it in breach of data protection (and other matters of taste)?

My article yesterday on Jiggery-pokery of the highest order – the SNP’s ‘National Survey’ has had the most views of any post so far on the No Thanks! blog, and that in less than 24 hours. So whether you like it or not it’s certainly attracted some interest.

It’s also attracted plenty of comments. Some are on the blog and you can see them below the article itself. Others have bounced around Twitter with more or less authority and I thought it worth summarising some of them here before they disappear into cyberspace.

Perhaps the most serious allegation is that the survey site breaches the Data Protection Act. This seems to boil down to the fact that in order to avoid the personal data you give in the survey being held and used by the SNP you have to opt out (rather than in) and in an obscure way that is not part of the natural process of completing the survey. You have to notice the Privacy and Data Protection link in tiny print below the survey form, go to another page, read the instructions there, then write and post a letter to the SNP’s HQ asking to opt out of ‘some or all’ of the uses the party might put your information to.

I know very little about this aspect of the law and would be happy to be told the people making these claims are wrong. But they seem to include individuals who deal with data protection issues in their day to day work. One has said he’s already lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office and points out that the SNP has what he calls ‘form’ in this area.

If there is a breach it might be deliberate or it might be accidental. The former possibility would obviously be more egregious but I can see a case for suspecting that what we have here is mere sloppiness.

In support of that possibility I’d cite a claim made by another tweeter that the domain name ‘survey2016.scot’ was only registered (in the name of SNP chief executive Peter Murrell) on 17 August, scarcely two working weeks before Nicola Sturgeon launched the party’s ‘listening exercise.’ In other words, some fundamental decisions about the nature of what was to be done were only made a short time before the exercise was launched, even though in broad outline its advent had been publicised as early as April this year. Was there dissent in the ranks that led to some last-minute decision-making, or is the SNP not the fearsomely efficient party machine they would have us believe?

In my rush to get my comments on the survey out yesterday I missed a few other points.

For example, in terms of genuinely seeking people’s views on the future, one question about a dozen issues is arguably at the heart of the survey:

Question 4. If there was a referendum on Scottish independence, how important would the following issues be to you in deciding how you vote?

With some of the issues (for example, ‘Feel British/Believe in the Union’ and ‘Feel Scottish’) the question makes sense, with others much less so. If you say ‘Immigration’ is ‘critically important,’ are you strongly for it or strongly against it? This is the sort of infelicitous detail that might have been avoided if the party had devoted more time and expertise to preparing the survey.

Of course, the bigger criticism of all surveys of this sort is that the self-selection of the participants means you almost certainly won’t get a representative view of what the population overall thinks. The SNP won’t, if people like me opt out of taking part. Those on Twitter (not encouraged by me) who’ve said they’re going to put in untrue or multiple responses won’t help either. But that’s a risk the SNP take and should have known about anyhow.

The counter to that last point is of course one of the thrusts of my previous article – that this is not about genuinely seeking views but about strengthening the SNP’s existing database of sympathisers and potential sympathisers.

Another aspect of the survey2016 web site I didn’t make time to mention previously demonstrates this point very clearly. Click on the ‘Volunteer’ page and a whole new world of opportunity opens up:

you can help make Scotland’s voice heard. Play your part by volunteering today, and you’ll receive an email with further information on how to get involved, including The National Survey activist pack.

There you have in a couple of sentences what the whole exercise is about – SNP activism, not a genuine listening exercise.

And of course, no SNP yellow or black anywhere on the web site. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest, as someone did on Twitter, that the purple of the footer panel is meant to suggest the purple of the Scottish parliament web site. But taken together with the glib ‘Scotland’s voice’ and the phrase ‘National Survey’ a cynic might wonder.

My thanks to people on Twitter who knowingly or unknowingly suggested material for this follow-up article on the SNP survey.

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6 Responses to That SNP survey – is it in breach of data protection (and other matters of taste)?

  1. Tim Turner says:

    There are two areas where the website version of the survey falls down – the privacy policy and the approach to marketing. The privacy policy link on the website is too small, and the wording of the policy (if you can find it) is too vague. The first Data Protection principle states that information must be processed fairly, which means people need to know who is gathering their data, and the purposes for which it is being used. Neither of these is dealt with properly – it’s not clear how data will be used, and I’ve seen people on Twitter who think the survey is being carried out by the Scottish Government rather than the SNP.

    The other problem is from legislation related to Data Protection called the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, which set out rules for marketing. Regulation 22 states that marketing can only be sent by email if consent has been obtained. Consent cannot be opt-out, it has to be opt-in. The SNP cannot be under any illusion that their communications are marketing, because they lost a case against enforcement action under PECR in the 2006 case you linked to above. They claimed then that their communications were not marketing, and they lost on that specific claim. Any political or campaigning emails sent as a result of filling in the survey will be unlawful.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. SNP survey is worse than a “timeshare” contract.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Eric Sinclair says:

    “One has said he’s already lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office and points out that the SNP has what he calls ‘form’ in this area.” True – and the legitimate criticism of the survey in comments by others brings to mind the reasons why the Supreme Court criticised the Named Person legislation as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Island Girl says:

    The fact that the survey may well breach Data Protection legislation doesn’t come as too big a surprise; after all they gave it little regard for the Named Person Scheme which has been successfully challenged in court. I suspect that because Data Protection is UK wide legislation the SNP have adopted the attitude that such legislation doesn’t apply to them!
    When an error is made on the first occasion then this is regarded as a mistake and down to ignorance; when it is made a second time then one can only assume that it is wilful and intentional. And there lies the crux of the problem for those in Scotland who voted No Thanks to separation in 2014 – it is the SNP way or no way!
    I find the SNP survey really sinister – not only is it collecting personal data on those who choose to participate, it is also collecting data on how people voted in 2014 and intend to vote in a potential second referendum. The results can easily be skewered by those who want a second referendum by proclaiming to be NO voters in 2014 but to YES voters in any future referendum. The manipulation of this data is obvious for all to see.
    Had Sturgeon and Co wished to portray her party and Government as honest, transparent and REALLY keen to listen and converse with Scotland’s people then they would have had the questions on the survey designed by an impartial and professional organisation and conducted by an independent third party. Actually forget that – if Sturgeon was honest and transparent and really keen to LISTEN to Scotland’s people, they would have respected the outcome of the referendum vote in 2014 and had the moral courage and backbone to do so.
    For those NO voters who have participated in the survey and done so with honest answers, they have just identified themselves to a governing political party who can make life very awkward for them in many different ways using that ‘super’ multi-organisational database they have created – health, welfare etc.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Sam Duncan says:

    “But taken together with the glib ‘Scotland’s voice’ and the phrase ‘National Survey’ a cynic might wonder.”

    Just what I said under your original post. Blurring the lines. And as time goes on, the more I realise that this is actually the principal problem with nationalism. Good and fair government is never safe in the hands of people who don’t respect, or even understand, the boundaries between people, party, and state.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Lulu says:

    Interesting about abuse of privacy. The petition website 38degrees is run by nationalists in Scotland. Shortly before the general election last year 38degrees man in Scotland (who ran Yes campaign’s social media) put out a very detailed survey asking how I would vote and on what issues. They already have my name and postcode, so not hard to find me from that. Needless to say I declined to give the SNP’s mole at 38degrees all my views.

    Liked by 2 people

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