Political parties may face heavy fines for misusing voter data, Web Summit hears

EU is considering sanctions on parties for data abuse ahead of European elections

Vera Jurova, the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality was speaking on the first full day of this year’s Web Summit in Lisbon

Vera Jurova, the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality was speaking on the first full day of this year’s Web Summit in Lisbon

 

The European Commission is considering introducing heavy fines for political parties who misuse voters’ data as it looks to “end the online anarchy around elections”.

Speaking at the Web Summit in Lisbon on Tuesday, Vera Jurova, the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said parties could face sanctions of up to 5 per cent of their annual budgets for breaching data protection rules in the run-up to the European elections.

This is just one of a number of steps the commission is considering as it looks to ensure next year’s elections are fair and transparent.

The move comes as new research carried out for the commission shows that more than two-thirds of all Europeans are concerned that their personal data could be used to craft political messages.

Upcoming elections

In a speech made exactly 200 days before the elections take place next May, Ms Jurova said it was time to fully address non-transparent political advertising and the misuse of people’s personal data.

“In our online world, the risk of interference and manipulation has never been so high,” she said.

Ms Jurova said the Cambridge Analytics scandal had been a “wake up call” to politicians and citizens as it had “sent shockwaves through our democratic systems.”

“The question is not whether tech is good or bad for our democracy. We do not have a binary choice in front of us because the answer is that it is both at the same time,” she said.

Concerns

According to a yet-to-be published Eurobarometer study, 73 per cent of Europeans are concerned about disinformation or misinformation online in the pre-election period.

In addition, 81 per cent are in favour of online social networks being fully transparent about what political content is being put online and who is paying for it.

A similar percentage want tech giants to make clear the overall amount of money they receive from political parties.

Ms Jurova said she would like to see a new Hippocratic Oath for those working in the technology sector, the first rule of which would be: Do no harm and put well-being of people first.

“An architect needs to respect and comply with the building code and a number of safety legislations. For the digital world we should think of a similar system, a mix of ethical, legal and societal norms that would ensure continuing trust in the greatest revolution of our lifetimes,” she said.