5 Questions to Ask the ICO

The Information Commissioner, the Fundraising Regulator and the Charity Commission are due to meet fundraisers in Manchester tomorrow, on Tuesday 21st February, for the Fundraising and Regulatory Compliance Conference. The ICO have produced a conference paper for delegates to read prior to 21st, which can be accessed here.

The paper, amongst other things, sets out the ICO’s view of data protection in relation to Database Screening and, it seems, prospect research – although, whilst it mentions ‘Screening’ specifically, the paper rather ambiguously only refers to other [research] “…activities such as profiling individuals”. We do need to get some clarification on what they mean by this but, from the context, it does appear to refer to researching donors and supporters using public domain sources and/or using information not supplied directly by the data subject (so, prospect research).

The paper initially outlines why an organisation should use a privacy policy to explain how they make use of data. It then explains the ‘legitimate interests’ condition in relation to the DPA. In this sense, the paper is useful in outlining that charities need to be honest and fair in their processing of data. This is something that cannot and should not be argued with. As we have said before (e.g. here and here), all charities must make sure they have robust, fair and easily accessible privacy policies which openly explain how they collect, store, use and process data.

The conference paper outlines situations in which such a policy must be communicated to a supporter, some ways this can be done, and even when it is not necessary / practical to do so. This is all useful and welcome information. We now hope that perhaps the Fundraising Regulator will issue some sample privacy policies at the conference on Tuesday that provide examples of the language that charities can use to comply with fair processing of data for fundraising.

However, the paper then states that it is ‘highly unlikely’ that charities will be able to rely on legitimate interests as a condition to process data for Database Screening – specifically using third party providers or involving any personal data not supplied by the data subject – or for ‘profiling individuals’. Instead these activities will require explicit consent from data subjects. This is because, the ICO states, these activities are a) not ‘compatible’ with processing data collected from a donor at the point of donation and b) not within the ‘reasonable expectations’ of a donor.

Please read the conference paper. Think about how it will affect you and your work and highlight any areas you feel are not clear. The conference on 21st February is a very important event and the questions we ask (and the answers we receive) about this paper are likely to have a long-term effect on fundraising and research. If you are not going to be at the conference on Tuesday, you can pass any questions that you may have about it directly to the ICO (send them to events@ico.org.uk and ask for them to be forwarded to the relevant dept).

Below are 5 of the questions we would like to ask, now that we have read the paper:

  1. The ICO say in its paper for this conference that individuals are “highly unlikely to expect” certain types of data processing. In the ICO’s press release announcing the British Heart Foundation and RSPCA monetary penalties they are quoted as saying “millions of people who give their time and money to benefit good causes will be saddened…” to know that charities would ask them for more money.
    1. Does the ICO have evidence that shows what donors expect?
    2. There is, in fact, strong evidence to support the fact that processing of personal data for research is within the reasonable expectations of many donors; a recent study concluded that 78% of donors said that better research before they are approached by a non-profit is the most significant area of improvement in fundraising in the past 10 years. Therefore, if fair processing is adhered to and prospect research is within the reasonable expectations of donors, then can the ICO confirm that charities can rely on legitimate interests to undertake this type of activity?
    3. Sources
      1. ICO, Fundraising and regulatory compliance, 21st February 2017
      2. ICO investigation reveals how charities have been exploiting supporters, 16th December 2016
      3. Breeze & Lloyd, (2013); Why Rich People Give. London, DSC.
  2. Tesco’s Privacy Policy, which customers using its loyalty card must accept, says: “We may also use personal data from other sources, such as specialist companies that supply information, online media channels (online media channels include websites, social media sites, pay TV providers and any other channels that become available to us), our Retail Partners and public registers (for example, the electoral roll)”. They state that they do this in order to provide a better service and experience to their customers.
    1. If a charity used this same statement in its privacy policy, could charities use the public and private domain sources listed by Tesco in research so as to provide a better service and experience to donors?
    2. If not, why not?
    3. Source: Tesco Privacy and Cookie Policy
  3. The paper for the conference says: “It’s legitimate for you to process personal data in order to properly administer donations received from individuals”. The paper suggests throughout, as highlighted above, that “administering donations” is the only purpose for which a charity would use data collected at the point of donation or at the point a supporter joins a charity database. It suggests, therefore, that fundraising (including the market research necessary for raising funds) is not a compatible purpose for processing donation information.
    1. Is it?
    2. If not, why can, for example, Tesco use transaction information for more than simply administering a transaction (see their privacy policy linked above)?
    3. As charities rely on fundraising to carry out their work, is it not within their legitimate interests to use data collected from supporters for fundraising purposes, providing that fair processing and the rules of PECR, the MPS/TPS/FPS etc. are all adhered to?
  4. Here is a common story: a charity Board member meets an individual at, say, a cocktail party. The Board member comes back to the charity fundraiser with the individual’s name and says “X is interested in what we do. And he is wealthy.” The ICO says in its paper for this conference: “Far more intrusive are activities such as profiling individuals, particularly where this involves getting more information that the individual has not given you, either directly or via third-party companies. In these cases the legitimate interest condition is highly unlikely to apply. So you’d need to seek the consent of individuals before doing such processing.”
    1. The X named by our Board member is not a donor. We have no permissions or opt-ins or opt-outs. Can we look him up on Google or LinkedIn or Companies House without his permission?
  5. The Charity Commission imposes a duty to check on donors and potential donors. The Charity Commission recommends that trustees understand their donors and asks: “Have any public concerns been raised about the donors or their activities?” The Commission suggests that “full use should be made of internet websites” to check on donors. This is directly contrary to the ICO guidance which would not permit the use of public domain information until the donor has signed up to our privacy policy.
    1. Given that we want to research a potential donor before she does this, whose guidance should we follow – that of the ICO or that of the Charity Commission?
    2. Source: Charity Commission for England and Wales, Tool 6: Know Your Donor – Key Questions

These are just some of the questions we feel require clarification from the ICO and we’ll be submitting these prior to the event. We will also be attending the event on Tuesday and we’ll report back on what happened as soon as possible afterwards through this blog.

Please also keep an eye on Factary’s Twitter feed during the day as we will attempt, where possible, to Tweet any significant points or answers to any questions raised during the conference.

4 comments on “5 Questions to Ask the ICO

  1. Pingback: Heat & Light | (Fund) Raising Voices

  2. Hi Nicola – this is a great article – is there any follow-up info yet about what the responses were to your points? I’ve been trying to read up on various reports from the event on Feb 21st but still don’t feel much the wiser! In particular about this core question of explicit / implicit consent for screening and profiling. Thanks

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