Charities criticised for believing they were ‘above the law’ on data protection

An article published by The Telegraph highlighting concerns regarding the approach of some large charities to data protection laws recently caught our attention.


The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, has revealed that some of the largest charities in Britain ignored warnings that it was illegal to buy and sell donors’ data because they believed they were a ‘special case.’ Attempts by charities to negotiate a trade off with the data protection watchdog over the use of personal details led the Commissioner to conclude the charities concerned considered themselves to be ‘above the law’.

Mr Graham’s assertions arise following claims that eight large charities ignored a letter sent by the Information Commissioner’s office in 2014 warning them not to ignore the Telephone Preference Service, which registers individuals who don’t want cold calls.

Daphne Harris, the Chair of the RSPCA represented one of the leading charities that gave evidence and apologised for the charity’s involvement in the case of a dementia sufferer whose details were sold on, resulting in him being conned out of thousands of pounds.

Mr Graham highlighted his concern that charities’ approach to data protection laws increases the potential for vulnerable people to be exploited, particularly as elderly people may feel guilty about not contributing. He drew on the case of Olive Cooke, Britain’s longest serving poppy seller who received ‘thousands of calls’ and up to 267 letters a month from charities asking for money before she committed suicide.

The Commissioner noted the reluctance of the Institute for Fundraising, which is the sector’s professional body, to issue new guidance on data privacy in 2013, only updating its website in August 2015. In order to force charities to have regard to the guidance, Mr Graham called on Ministers to make it statutory. He also implored the government to give him the power to imprison individuals who sell or trade private data stating this would make a ‘huge difference’ in attempting to deal with the ‘dirty world’ of sharing individuals’ information.

The article published by the Telegraph can be accessed here.