Sinn Fein database on NI voters - Doug Beattie calls for full investigation of ‘Reg’

UUP leader Doug Beattie says it is important that there is a full investigation into a Sinn Fein database called ‘Reg’ which collates information on voters in Northern Ireland.

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 6:30 am
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the party appointed a data protection officer following correspondence with the Republic’s data regulator.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the party appointed a data protection officer following correspondence with the Republic’s data regulator.

The issue hit the headlines in the south earlier this year when it was revealed that Sinn Fein had a similar database for voters in the south called Abú.

Mr Beattie had asked the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to investigate whether the database was meeting all its regulatory requirements in Northern Ireland.

The ICO then wrote to Sinn Fein about the matter.

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Its correspondence with the party has now been uncovered by the Nolan Show using the Freedom of Information Act.

The ICO put 23 questions to Sinn Fein but most of the answers were heavily redacted.

Sinn Fein told the ICO that it would comment on Abú, but that in Northern Ireland - where the ICO has jurisdiction - it runs a different database, called Reg.

The party told the ICO it had collated information from the Electoral Register as well as “political opinion” for the database.

They said it was a very limited database and that Abú does the same. The ICO was satisfied with the response and the investigation was then closed.

But Mr Nolan asked yesterday “why were the ICO satisfied?” and said he was also keen to know exactly what information was being recorded on Reg.

His BBC colleague, David Thompson, said they only know what was divulged under FOI and that there does not seem to have been “in depth investigations” by the ICO.

He said no other Executive party runs such a database on voters.

Philip Ryan, Political Editor with the Irish Independent, has investigated the matter in depth. He told the show the only use of the term ‘Reg’ he was aware of was as an “overarching” database of people on both sides of the border who are supportive of a referendum on unification.

He said the Data Protection Commissioner in the republic is investigating reports of such databases being run by Sinn Fein and by other political parties.

Sinn Fein told the ICO it was not true that any personal data was taken from social media and put into either the Abú or Reg system, “despite media reports”.

The Nolan Show said that in April it asked the party a series of specific questions on the Abú system, and whether it held data on NI residents, but that Sinn Fein did not address any of the questions.

The BBC said information about the Reg system was posted on a section of Sinn Fein’s website dealing with its privacy policy, a week after the ICO announced it was investigating the Abú system. It was described as “a canvass aid”.

UUP leader Doug Mr Beattie told the News Letter yesterday he is still concerned about the matter.

“It’s important that this is investigated fully and if anyone has broken the law there needs to be a criminal investigation in order to protect public confidence,” he said.

Sinn Fein was invited to comment but did not offer any response.

In April Sinn Fein denied it was “microtargeting” people using data collected from Facebook and the electoral register.

Eoin O Broin said the party’s system of using public information about voters is “fully compliant” with the law.

Sinn Fein was responding to the Republic’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) after it sought information about how it uses its database and information collected from social media.

Also in April, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that the party has appointed a data protection officer following correspondence with the DPC.

She said the appointment was being made out of “an abundance of caution”. The party was fully compliant with legislation, but she added the appointment “is by way of meeting what was a gap in the compliance identified”.

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