Council wins legal battle to protect residents' privacy

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Picture from stock

First published in News
Last updated
Watford Observer: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

A council has succeeded in a legal battle to help protect the privacy of people on the electoral register.

Hertsmere Borough Council was one of a group of 15 councils to have fought a legal challenge from the company behind the directory website 192.com.

192.com Limited objected to the practice of ‘pre ticking’ the annual electoral registration canvass form where electors had previously indicated that they did not want their details included in the edited version of the register.

There are two versions of the register, the ‘full’ version which is used for elections and other limited purposes such as credit checks and the ‘edited’ version, which must by law be made available for general sale and can be used for any purpose.

Hertsmere Borough Council said companies such as 192.com have a commercial interest in ensuring that as few people as possible opt out from the edited register because they use the information on their sites.

Towards the end of 2012, 192.com threatened councils’ electoral registration officers with judicial review proceedings if they did not sign an undertaking promising not to ‘pre-tick’ canvass forms, meaning people who had previously opted out would have to remember to tick the box again in order to continue to have their choice respected.

When 27 councils refused to sign this undertaking, 192.com issued a judicial review claim on January 24 last year.

Twelve of the electoral registration officers agreed to sign the undertaking, but the 15 who continued to refuse mounted a common defence. The hearing was listed at the High Court for March but 192.com discontinued their claim and legal costs were awarded to the group of defendant electoral registration officers.

Hertsmere Borough Council’s chief executive, Donald Graham, said: "We take the privacy of our electors very seriously so we are pleased with this positive outcome.

"Our view is that if people have previously expressed a desire not to be included in the version of the register available for general sale it is our duty to reflect that. There was an important principle at stake here and working together we have defended it."

Three Rivers District Council also tried to defend the claim.

Keith Marsden, CEO of 192.com, said: "Hertsmere are incorrect to say they won a legal battle (because circumstances changed rendering it academic), it never went to court and neither side conceded the point being contested

"The practice of pre-ticked at issue is considered illegal by the Electoral Commission and The Association of Electoral Administrators

"Being on the edited register has many benefits for people."

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