I’d tell you everything if you’d pick up that telephone: political expression and data protection

My recent paper on data protection and political marketing is now available on SSRN: download it here. The final version appears in the April 2011 issue of the European Human Rights Law Review (get it at a library or via Westlaw). It was a fun piece to write, although on mature reflection it’s probably a bit more provocative than I would usually be in print. In some ways, it’s an attempt to push arguments to extreme outcomes in order to understand how different notions (privacy and speech, but not superinjunctions!) relate to each other. In this case, I find myself arguing (not in as many words) for the ‘right to hassle’, specifically the possibility that the welcome expansion of data protection law might make it harder for political debate to take place. The paper takes the complaints against UK political parties for automated telephone calls as its starting point but spins off in a number of directions after setting out the recent decisions of the Information Commissioner regarding a range of parties. Actually, I started writing it as a blog post about Nick Clegg some years ago; came back to it in February 2010 after further cases were reported, then finished it last summer.

Something else that’s not in the paper as bluntly as it should be, but did influence the argument, was my own realisation (when I used to ‘do’ politics in Dublin) that the traditional door-to-door method of communicating political ideas became harder and harder each time, as more voters moved into apartment blocks with locked doors. Normally, I’m the type who is sceptical of free speech arguments against data protection (and am awfully cranky with telemarketers), and so I surprised myself while writing this in how much I was coming down in favour of an exception to the relevant data protection rules. The wider theme of data protection and free speech is something that David Erdos is working on at Oxford, of course, but I do hope you enjoy my shorter contribution too, and comments are welcome.

(I’m also thrilled that the title survived: if you haven’t already figured it out, this video tells all…)

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