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Victory for privacy ticks the right box

09th April 2014

Three Rivers District Council has succeeded in a legal battle to help protect the privacy of people on the electoral register.

The Electoral Registration Officer who represented the council, Steven Halls, was one of a group of 15 who have staved off a legal challenge from the company behind the directory website 192.com.

Steven Halls, Electoral Registration Officer said: “By working together we have defended the privacy of residents in Three Rivers, supporting the desire of those who did not want to be included in the version of the register available for general sale.”

There are two versions of the register, the ‘full’ version which is used for elections and other limited purposes such as credit checks, and the ‘edited’ version, which must by law be made available for general sale and can be used for any purpose.

Companies such as 192.com have a commercial interest in ensuring that as few people as possible opt out from the edited register because they use the information on their sites.

Towards the end of 2012, 192.com threatened Electoral Registration Officers with judicial review proceedings if they did not sign an undertaking promising not to ‘pre-tick’ canvass forms, meaning people who had previously opted out would have to remember to tick the box again in order to continue to have their choice respected.

When 27 Electoral Registration Officers refused to sign this undertaking, 192.com issued a judicial review claim on 24 January last year.

Twelve of the Electoral Registration Officers agreed to sign the undertaking but the 15 who continued to refuse mounted a common defence. The hearing was listed at the High Court for March 2014 but 192.com discontinued their claim and legal costs were awarded to the group of defendant Electoral Registration Officers.

The legal battle was challenged by Three Rivers District Council and 14 other councils, this included : Birmingham City Council, Blackpool Council, Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council, Chorley Borough Council, Hertsmere Borough Council, Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council, Manchester City Council, Pendle Borough Council, Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council, Spelthorne Borough Council, Stevenage Borough Council, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, West Lancashire Borough Council and Wirral Council.