Reports are beginning to emerge of Tower Hamlets residents receiving unsolicited text messages urging them to vote for Rabina Khan.
The text messages read:
“Dear Supporter Vote RABINA KHAN this Thurs 11th June Decide who runs the borough and your future Your vote makes a difference
To opt out text GQBZ”
Here is a screen grab of one message:
“Opt out? How and when did I opt in?” is the question residents are asking themselves as they have no recollection of ever opting in to text messages from Rabina Khan’s team.
They are further confused as they only give their mobile number to friends and family.
Rabina Khan’s campaign team have been contacted and asked to comment on this issue. No response was forthcoming at the time of publication.
Different election, same tactics
In last year’s Mayoral campaign Love Wapping encountered several residents who had experienced the same issue – unsolicited text messages from Lutfur Rahman’s team.
Assuming these text messages are from Rabina Khan’s campaign team — and it is difficult to believe otherwise — how did they get these phone numbers?
Database of 25,000 phone numbers
A LW source with knowledge of this shadow system who recently came forward estimates that in excess of 25,000 numbers have been ‘harvested’ from Tower Hamlets council records.
This number might be significantly higher.
Mobile phone numbers are harvested in the following ways:
- A resident goes to the surgery of a Tower Hamlets First councillor for help with a housing problem or similar matter. The resident puts their mobile number on a contact form and this goes into the shadow system as well as the normal Tower Hamlets council records.
- Groups of 10 or more Tower Hamlets First activists attend events (previously with the ex-Mayor) and ask residents attending if they have any issues they would like help with. A mobile phone number is given and it goes into the system.
- Families invited along to educational awards events for their children have their mobile numbers added to the system.
- People who have signed petitions relating to Tower Hamlets issues have their mobile numbers added.
In short it seems as if anyone who has had contact with Tower Hamlets council or Tower Hamlets may have had their mobile phone number added to the shadow database for explicit use by a political party.
This is consistent with the habit of the Tower First Administration often seeming to use or divert Council information and or resources for their own political purposes.
No surprises there.
It seems that between 5,000 – 6,000 phone numbers of Islamic Forum Europe (IFE) activists are also in the system but this is likely to be on a voluntary basis due to the close relationship between IFE and THF.
As with other issues relating to the Tower Hamlets First administration this is a systematic and well organised operation, not a case of phone numbers being collected ad hoc.
Why the fuss?
According to the Electoral Commission the actual content of canvassing material – a text message of this type is essentially digital canvassing – is not within their regulatory remit.
The issue is which individual or organisation has these phone numbers and how did they get them?
S55 Data Protection Act
This is a Data Protection issue which the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) regulates as it is responsible for data privacy.
Speaking to the ICO this morning LW understands that the issue with the unauthorised use of mobile phone numbers by Rabina Khan’s team, if proven, could be in contravention of Section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.
Additionally the use of the phone numbers may contravene the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECER) which relates to digital marketing.
To date there has been little media coverage of the possible misuse of mobile phone numbers for canvassing purposes in Tower Hamlets.
One reason for this is that the majority of people do not realise that for any political party to use phone numbers in this way is wrong.
It is likely that the majority of residents who get a text like this delete it in annoyance.
How to report a concern
If you have received a political canvassing message in support of any of the candidates standing for election and you have not explicitly opted in to such messages you need to do the following:
- Do not delete the message. Save it as it is evidence.
- Contact the political party who sent the message and ask them how they got your mobile phone number.
- Contact the Information Commissioner using the ‘Report a concern’ section of their website.
- As this is a Tower Hamlets election and it is ‘special’ contact the Metropolitan Police Service via 101.
- Contact Electoral Services at Tower Hamlets council as below:
5 Clove Crescent
London, E14 2BG
Tel: 020 7364 0872
Fax: 020 7364 3758
How can this be investigated?
35 calendar days after an election each political party is required to submit a list of their campaign expenses to the Returning Officer at Tower Hamlets council.
It could be interesting to see if Rabina Khan’s campaign team list any expenses relating to text message canvassing.
The other way to get to the truth of this could be for the Metropolitan Police Service to add it to their ‘might have a look at it sometime’ list of lines of enquiry relating to irregularities in Tower Hamlets.
But then it is a long and growing list so don’t hold your breath people.
Whatever happens the authorities are powerless to investigate without evidence and that is completely down to borough residents to come forward.
Whatever party you are backing remember to get out and vote tomorrow.
Remember you have a first and a second preference vote. Use both of them.