The Express has discovered that councils are selling an edited version of the electoral roll to anyone prepared to pay a small fee. According to the paper you can buy 1,000 names and addresses for just £21.50.
Not a particularly newsworthy fact. Councils have been legally obliged to sell the Edited Electoral Register to all and sundry ever since the Representation of the People (England and Wales)(Amendment) Regulations 2002 became law nine years ago. Here's what the Regulations say:
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- The registration officer shall supply a copy of the edited register to any person on payment of a fee calculated in accordance with paragraph (2) below.
- In the case of the registeró
- in data form, the fee shall be at the rate of £20 plus £1.50 for each 1,000 entries (or remaining part of 1,000 entries) in it; and
- in printed form, the fee shall be at the rate of £10 plus £5 for each 1,000 entries (or remaining part of 1,000 entries) in it.
What the Express article doesn't mention is that the government was due to respond to a public consolation on the future of the Edited Electoral Register by 18 May 2010. The consultation was announced after the Information Commissioner had concluded in July 2008 that "selling the Edited Register is an unsatisfactory way for local authorities to treat person information." It seems the issue has effectively been kicked in the long grass. The Express, at least, appears to be oblivious of the fact that the future of the Edited Electoral Register is on the political agenda (albeit as one of the last agenda points).
Just how relevant the issue is was illustrated by a story that appeared on Wales on Sunday last week. The details of a six-year-old were mistakenly added to the Electoral Register, and as a result the kid is now receiving credit card and loan offers from junk mailers. There's nothing the council that sold the child's name and address can do to rectify its mistake. The data on the register may be used for any purpose; once it's in the public domain it will quickly find its way to countless anonymous list brokers. The father of the child told the paper:
"You hand this information to a trusted body who you expect to keep your details safe or at least make you aware that they are not going to do that. If I had known what would have happened before registering to vote, I think I would have sacrificed my vote and stayed off the register."
Another example. Last month I was contacted by someone who has ticked the opt-out box on the electoral registration form ever since the Edited Register was introduced in 2002. Despite this the person was suddenly listed on people-finding websites (192.com and the like). It turned out this had happened because an election officer had failed to mark the person as 'opted out' on the Electoral Register. So, for nearly ten years you tick that stupid opt-out box to prevent your personal details are used as a commodity, only to find that some bureaucrat has made a slight clerical error.
Much more newsworthy, if you ask me.