I wrote to Sarah last week after reporting on her questioning of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the subject of unsolicited telecommunications. I asked her what steps would the Liberal Democrats take to combat SPAM? Would the LD’s advocate OPT-IN or OPT-OUT measures? Would LD’s toughen up privacy laws to protect my contact details or will they be relaxed?

Sarah was prompt in her response. I wrote using her direct @parliament.uk email on the 13th and received a written reply on the 15th. Sarah must be working on improving her responsiveness – she’s currently responding to 48% of FaxYourMP communications within 14 days.

The advice Sarah gives on stopping unsolicited communications is sound. For reducing telephone and fax spam, Sarah recommends registering with the Telephone and Fax Preference service. By lodging your numbers with the TPS/FPS it becomes illegal for an organisation to send unsolicited communications to them. If a company ignores this preference, they could incur a fine. Although Sarah has “doubts about how effective the TPS and FPS are in enforcing the rules”, she feels that registering with them is the “best first step”. So I’ve registered my telephone numbers with them and I’ll be letting Sarah know if the ammount of SPAM is reduced.

With regards to unsolicited communications received electronically, Sarah gives details of the European Union Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications that was introduced with effect from 11 December 2003. There is further information on the directive at the website of the Information Commissioner’s Office. The only drawback that Sarah sees is that there are “rogue companies operating from outisde the jurisdiction” of the E.U. (which, for me, means those 419 ‘advance fee’ scams from Nigeria and those ‘All the Meds you need’ mails from the last bastion of the free world, the USA) that are able to bulk mail without fear of retribution.

And where do the LibDem’s stand on the privacy and protection of citizens personal information? Sarah states that the Lib Dem’s would not look to relax any legislation on the control of access to personal data. She writes of Lib Dem “concerns over the Government’s plans to create national databases of the information help about its citizens.” While Sarah sees that there could be advantages in common data standards and methods of data exchange between different government department systems, she has concerns about the potential for misuse or even “abuse” of personal information. She goes on to explain:

“We believe that Government must take the approach that it has in effect a contractual relationship with citizens to hold data on their behalf. This means that it should only hold data where this can be justified in the public interest. Government has no business holding personal data for any reason other than carrying out its functions in serving the public. It should explain why it is holding data and consider whether there is broad public agreement to that data being held. It should seek the consent of the citizen for the collection of that data and explain the purposes for which it will be used. And it should publish explicit rules for the exchange of data between various arms of the Government showing why such exchanges are necessary.”

Perhaps a written ‘contract’ would ensure the destruction of documents prior to disposal to prevent identity theft – it would stop things like this happening.