British DMA Battles Threat to Use of U.K. Electoral Roll

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LONDON - The British DMA is "fighting like mad" to prevent passage of a bill before the House of Commons that would restrict DM use of the nation's electoral rolls.

"The UK is one of those rare countries that has this public information available for commercial purposes and it has been used effectively for such things as data cleaning, prospecting and data scoring," said Colin Lloyd, CEO of the British DMA.

He called such information a key ingredient in granting credit to the poor and the young because the electoral roll is a reliable means of establishing identity. Without its ready use such credit will be harder to get.

The restrictions are part of a report on electoral procedures prepared by the British Home Office that has been looking at poor voter turnouts. The report proposes that voters be allowed to check an opt-out box on the registration form barring use of their name for "any commercial purposes."

The government, Lloyd said, "had the idea that voters as consumers would refuse to fill in the electoral forms if they knew the information could be used for commercial purposes.

"We got them to drop that, but then the data registrar insisted that the government still do something about it so we are now deep in negotiations with the government on how to allow consumers to make informed decisions on how the data is used but not do it in such a way that it destroys the effectiveness of the data."

Curbs on use of electoral data, Lloyd said, could "have a tremendous financial impact" on the industry. "Something in the neighborhood of $750 million could go down the tubes if we can't use the information."

The DM industry would face higher costs across the board. Finding alternative, but less reliable data, would become more expensive.

Wastage, higher unit cost, increased cost of granting credit, increased bad debts and fraud would all drain money from an industry that generates annual sales of 30 billion pounds sterling ($48 billion).

Nor would it help consumers, Lloyd noted. They'll still get direct mail but it will be based on information acquired from other sources and much of it will be incorrectly and inaccurately targeted.

Electoral Roll information is used to correct and check the accuracy of personal data held - as required by the Data Protection Act - and if it is not available mail may not only be misdirected but inappropriate mail could be sent to minors.

The DMA has suggested alternative proposals, including the preparation and distribution of leaflets to households detailing the commercial use to which registration information may be put, extension of the Mailing Preference Service to allow electors to opt-out of receiving direct mail and extension of the DMA's code of practice and self-regulatory systems.

Time is running short, Lloyd said, and if the measure is not turned around before Christmas it could well become law. One positive note, he added, was the fact that any electoral reform is an "all party" decisions, and the Tories at least have "shown support for our position."

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