Within a period of some 48 hours towards week ending 17 August the North Somerset Council planning website was deluged by several hundred notifications in support of the Bristol Airport planning application.
Why? Because Bristol Airport pushed a panic button and sent an email to thousands of customers on its database, asking them to ‘register your support to help you keep flying high’ and providing a direct link to the North Somerset planning website.
In fact the additional registrations of ‘support’ on the planning website are a tiny response for such an extensive mail out and simply draw attention to the widespread opposition to the Airport’s greedy expansion plans. In fact many of the additional registrations supporting the Airport contained no actual comment.
Comment on the planning website is an important point of reference for the North Somerset Councillors who take the decision on the planning application. Despite wrapping itself in a blanket of small print disclaimers, the Airport’s use of customer and supplier data in this way may well constitute breach of General Protection Data Regulation (GDPR) for the purpose of political lobbying.
SBAEx contacted the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on the grounds that there may have been misuse or abuse of personal data. The ICO replied that the regulations governing email marketing state ‘individuals who receive this email from Bristol Airport have the absolute right to object to receiving further marketing from Bristol Airport and can raise a concern with them directly about how Bristol Airport have handled their information’. It continues that ‘organisations should ensure that they only process information for the purposes stated when they collected the information’.
A similar plea to Airport suppliers had some unintended consequences. For example one supplier circulated the Airport request using a ‘cc’ rather than a ‘bcc’, putting it confidential list of suppliers into the public domain.
Losing the argument
This use of the database is at the very least unethical and reflects the Airport’s concern that it is fast losing the argument for expansion. Approached for comment, Bristol Airport said: “We would be happy to respond directly to any queries raised by the Information Commissioners Office”.
The ICO will review the Airport’s actions but, in the meantime, any individual [or company] who has been contacted by the Airport and believes their data has been misused should contact to the Information Commissioners Office immediately. SBAEx will also be taking further steps in the light of advice from the ICO.
Notes and references
– Bristol Airport has applied to North Somerset council for permission to expand. Planning application No: 18/P/5118/OUT https://tinyurl.com/BristolAirportExpansion- ICO, ‘Guide to Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)’, https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-pecr/
– Bristol Airport privacy and data-handling statement: