EDITORIAL: Ruling puts DM industry firmly on the back foot

Brian Robertson, a retired accountant from Pontefract, West

Yorkshire, has had a bee in his bonnet for some time about his details

being disclosed to anyone who might then use them for marketing

purposes. Until last month, he hadn't caused any problems for the direct

marketing industry - he was simply in the category of someone who should

be steered towards the Mailing Preference Service.



Unfortunately, however, the bee in Mr Robertson's bonnet has proved to

have a serious sting in its tail. Last month, he won a case against

Wakefield Council at the High Court after it refused to confirm that his

name and address details would not be supplied to third parties without

his consent (see news, page 4). Robertson argued that this was a breach

of his human rights and the court awarded him costs, but not

compensation, payable by the Department of Transport, Local Government

and the Regions (DTLR).



The ramifications of this decision are immense. Many local authorities,

fearing further similar cases, have placed a moratorium on providing

electoral register information for commercial use. For the credit

industry, this is a disaster. As Marketing Direct went to press

Experian, for example, had no option but to end its rolling programme of

monthly updates for financial lenders. This means that in the run up to

Christmas, any house-movers may find it difficult to receive credit.



I'm sure that when Judge Maurice Kay found in favour of Mr Robertson, he

had no idea that his decision had the potential to seriously disrupt the

credit industry. After all, it was the use of his information by

marketing companies that Robertson objected so strongly to in the first

place.



The situation the industry now finds itself in is a fiasco from start to

finish. Next year the government will amend the electoral register

enabling individuals to opt out of commercial use of their personal

data.



This fact alone effectively debunks the very premise of the court

case.



Secondly, the 1998 Data Protection Act coupled with the Mailing

Preference Service, already provide protection for people who want to

safeguard their privacy.



The most hopeful outcome is that Wakefield Council lodges an appeal;

sense prevails and it wins; local authorities are reassured and

children's stockings are bulging on Christmas Day as parents rack up

more credit.



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