Martin investigated over sending unsolicited e-mails

NEWLY ELECTED Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is being investigated by the Data Protection Commissioner over complaints that…

NEWLY ELECTED Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is being investigated by the Data Protection Commissioner over complaints that he sent personalised, unsolicited e-mails to people outlining his plans for the election campaign.

The commissioner has received four complaints from people who received e-mails since Thursday, the day after Mr Martin was elected to replace Taoiseach Brian Cowen as Fianna Fáil leader.

None of those who complained consented to their details being used to contact them in this way and none could establish how Fianna Fáil obtained their addresses.

Addressing them as “supporters”, Mr Martin asked them to “work to ensure that Fianna Fáil candidates are elected in this, one of the most important election campaigns in our nation’s history”.

Mr Martin’s e-mail says the party has a “unique and positive role” to play in the country’s future.

“Under my leadership, Fianna Fáil will be clear in its approach to the urgent issues of today and in the path it proposes for the future.

“With the right policies Ireland can and will come through this crisis.”

Mr Martin says he will be initiating a “full national tour” to take the party’s message to every part of the country and indicates the task ahead “will not be easy”.

He signs off the e-mail in Irish with “Ar aghaidh le Fianna Fáil”.

Deputy data protection commissioner Gary Davis confirmed to The Irish Times that complaints had been received. He said four complaints was an “unusual” number for a single incident of such unsolicited contact, leading him to believe a significant number of similar e-mails had been sent.

The commissioner warned political parties earlier this week they would be breaking the law if they collected e-mail addresses or phone numbers and used them to send such unsolicited communications during the election campaign.

While political parties are exempt from certain direct marketing provisions of the Data Protection Acts, the commissioner has indicated he is disposed to prosecutions should they source such personal details in a manner that is in contravention of the law.

During the 2007 general election campaign, about 50 complaints were received from individuals that their details had been passed to political parties by sources such as sports clubs and schools. The number of complaints about such contacts from political parties has grown steadily in recent years.

The commissioner’s office has notified Fianna Fáil that it is investigating the complaints and has sought a response.

Yesterday marked the Council of Europe’s 5th annual Data Protection Day.