All of us have received forms in the past regarding keeping our details on the electoral register up to date. Many of you will have noticed that part of your entry on the electoral register refers to the Open Register.

It is my understanding that prior to 2001, the government was allowed to make details contained on the electoral register available to third parties for purposes that included unsolicited marketing. In the interests of allowing people to choose whether they wanted their details to be used by such third parties, in 2001 the Open Register was created that can be purchased by companies for whatever purpose they wish.

At the time when we were asked to update our electoral register details we were presented with a check box (which is at the bottom of the page) which we could tick if we did not want our details to be included on the Open Register. Many people will not have realised the full implications of this or even noticed it so defaulted to be included on the Open Register.

One of the organisations that makes use the Open Register maintains a web site called 192.com which combines information from the telephone directory and the Open Register to make our details easily available to the general public.

At a time when we are almost constantly being bombarded with junk mail and spam emails, we are also being in danger of getting caught up a wide variety of scams and financial attacks from unscrupulous individuals and organisations. This is of major concern to us as we are so well aware of people’s vulnerability and the dangers that they can be exposed to.

Removing your details from the Open Register is not just a case of changing your electoral role details. To be removed you need to contact the Electoral Registration Office at the Council and request removal.  Unfortunately you will only be removed from the latest Electoral Register Open Register so organisations using older versions will still have access to your details.

Getting off the Open Register unfortunately does not imply that you will be removed from 192.com which continues to hold details even of deceased people. To be removed from 192.com is complicated and you need to visit the site and fill in a form to be removed which then needs to be posted, faxed or emailed to request removal.  We can hear you say “fine but what if I do not have internet access”.  Even then we cannot begin to estimate how many other organisations have got our details from the Open Register.

Halton Open is extremely concerned about the implications of the Open Register. Halton Borough Council has set up a group within Trading Standards with a view to looking at scams and informing people of what to look out for.  You can contact Trading Standards at Runcorn Town Hall on 0151 511 8775/8785 and ask for Sue or Linda where you can register to be informed of scams as they become aware of them.  We have approached them on the issues surrounding the Open Register and are awaiting a response.

The wider issue here is the requirement that you are required to take action to opt out of the Open Register. This technique crops up all over the internet where you may register on a multitude of sites either as part of a genuine purpose or simply to receive news updates or catalog information etc.  The opt out check box is often located in small print at the end of a web page and is easy to miss.  I strongly believe that you should be given the option to opt in so if you do not tick the box then your details will not be made available to others.  As things stand, most of us are prone to the increasing frequency of annoying unsolicited calls where, if challenged, the caller regular responds by stating that our number has been obtained from some other calling list.

Please be aware when you are next asked to update your details.

Richard Ashworth – Halton OPEN Chair