The Information Commissioner's Office has criticised a number of big-name charities, including the RSPCA and the British Heart Foundation, for cynically ignoring data protection laws in their targeting of wealthy donors in fund-raising campaigns.
According to the ICO, the charities secretly screened millions of their donors so they could target them specifically for more money.
The RSPCA admits that it regularly ‘wealth screened' all of its seven million supporters, without their consent, in order to target its wealthiest supporters for special attention - or, no doubt, those who were old and ailing, and who might be persuaded to leave a bequest to the charity in their wills.
The British Heart Foundation, meanwhile, provided records to wealth management companies containing the personal data of several million people.
The ICO said so-called "wealth screening" was one of three different ways both charities breached the Data Protection Act by failing to handle donors' personal data consistent with the legislation.
The charities also traced and targeted new or lapsed donors by piecing together personal information obtained from other sources. And they traded personal details with other charities creating a massive pool of donor data for sale.
Donors were not informed of these practices, and so were unable to consent or object.
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said that millions of charity donors would be "saddened" by the abuses perpetrated by the charities.
"The millions of people who give their time and money to benefit good causes will be saddened to learn that their generosity wasn't enough. And they will be upset to discover that charities abused their trust to target them for even more money," said Denham.
The ICO investigation was one of a number into the fundraising practices of Britain's multi-billion-pound charity sector. Denham accused charities of having a "widespread disregard" for people's privacy.
"Our investigations suggest that the activities we've fined the RSPCA and the British Heart Foundation for today are also being carried out by some other charities. This widespread disregard for people's privacy will be a concern to donors, but so will the thought that the contributions people have made to good causes could now be used to pay a regulator's fine for their charity's misuse of personal information."
However, the two charities at the centre of the allegations - the RSPCA and the British Heart Foundation - were fined a paltry £25,000 and £18,000 respectively for their transgressions of data protection laws.
Earlier this year, the ICO fined ISP TalkTalk £400,000 for lapses that led to the loss of subscribers' personal information - a sum that was reduced by 20 per cent for early payment.
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