FIANNA FÁIL will have until today to respond to communications from the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), which is investigating complaints that the party sent unsolicited emails to a number of people.
Four people complained to the watchdog after they received personalised emails in the name of newly elected party leader Micheál Martin outlining his plans for the election.
The complainants said they neither consented to their details being used to contact them in this way, nor did they know how Fianna Fáil got their email addresses.
Addressing them as “supporters”, Mr Martin asked the email recipients to “work to ensure that Fianna Fáil candidates are elected in this, one of the most important election campaigns in our nation’s history”, before making a number of other statements to them.
The complainants said they received the emails on Thursday morning, after the Cork TD was elected party leader. The emails had been sent out just days after the DPC warned parties in the run up to the election:
* Do not attempt to obtain or use contact information from third parties
* Avoid sending electoral messages to persons other than those — such as party members — who can reasonably be assumed to consent to receipt of such messages.
“Yes, we have contacted Fianna Fáil and we expect an immediate response,” said deputy commissioner Gary Davis.
The office emailed Fianna Fáil at lunchtime on Thursday. They sent a reminder on Friday which was not replied to either.
The DPC then tried to ring Fianna Fáil before 5pm on Friday, but could not get a response.
It is understood the DPC will consider stepping up its investigation if it does not receive a reply by the close of business today.
Under the Data Protection Acts, the office has the power to demand information, which, if not complied with, is an offence.
The office also has the power to enter a premises and demand access to, and inspect, information.
The key issue of concern for the DPC is how Fianna Fáil got the contact details for the people they emailed.
Mr Davis said four complaints was an “unusual” number for a single incident of such unsolicited contact, which led him to suspect a significant number of similar emails had been sent.
The DPC received around 50 complaints on this problem during the 2007 election. Investigations revealed that political parties had got the contact details from sources such as sports clubs, friends, colleagues and schools.
* Micheál Martin speaking to reporters in Cork yesterday morning. Footage: Dan Linehan.
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