Political parties' SMS 'spam' allowed - IEC - TechCentral

Political parties’ SMS ‘spam’ allowed – IEC

The storm in a teacup over bulk SMSes sent by political parties continued on election day, with voters receiving SMSes from the Democratic Alliance urging them to go out and vote for the party.

Independent Electoral Commission spokesman Kate Bapela said that parties were allowed to send SMSes on election day, as it did not violate the rules that campaigning should stop at midnight the day before elections. “The rule applies to rallies, meetings and marches, and campaigning inside the boundaries of a voting station.”

Voters also reported receiving a few SMSes from the ANC, but the ruling party said the national campaign had stopped sending SMSes and these were probably from branches, according to ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza.

“What we have done as the ANC is send out SMSes for the past five weeks on Fridays, up until last Friday,” Khoza told the Mail & Guardian at the IEC results centre in Pretoria on Wednesday, while parties gathered to watch the votes being counted.

There were mixed reactions from voters to the SMSes. While some found it par for the course ahead of elections, others found it intrusive and wondered if it was illegal.

But despite the outcry, legal experts said it was not illegal as the relevant laws against bulk SMSes applied to commercial SMSes — not those sent out in the public interest.

“Section 45 of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act refers specifically to ‘unsolicited commercial communications’,” said digital media legal expert Paul Jacobson on his website in response to the issue. “The Consumer Protection Act clearly requires some form of commercial rationale for the messaging in order for its privacy protections to apply.”

However, Jacobson said a “compelling argument” could be made that the same rules should apply in terms of opting out of these SMSes, which was not made available in either party’s SMSes.

DA leader Helen Zille addressed the concern on Twitter after numerous complaints, referring those who wished to stop receiving SMSes to the relevant person.

ANC Gauteng spokesperson Nkenke Kekana took a pot-shot at the DA, pointing out that their SMSes had angered and annoyed many voters. “We prefer door-to-door campaigning,” he said.

Zinzi Dwane told the M&G on Twitter she found the SMSes “absolutely unacceptable. Are cellphone companies selling our information? It’s damn annoying, let alone a violation of privacy!”

But the numbers were legitimately obtained. The DA’s Jonathan Moakes said: “We obtained these numbers from tele-canvassing, door-to-door visits as well as from commercially available databases.”

Despite the legality and legitimacy of the SMSes, some voters on Twitter confessed to being so annoyed that the campaign may have swung their vote.

Fellow tweeter Dominic White, who specialises in IT security, slammed the overwrought reaction to the SMSes saying it was incorrect to call it spam or illegal. “I recognise that there are some people so incapable of rationality that an SMS sways their vote, but I wish they didn’t have Twitter,” he said.  — Verashni Pillay, Mail & Guardian


  1. Spam is spam no matter how they want to spin it. I received one of these on election day from the ANC. This is just an insult to injury. I will NEVER vote for the ANC after what they did to our country.

    I do not give out my number to just everybody so even if it was from a commercial database it was obtained illegally. The cell companies are selling our information. This has made me determined I will not RICA my number with my real details and give them more marketing ammunition.

  2. ANC Gauteng spokesperson Nkenke Kekana “We prefer door-to-door campaigning,”
    I dont know where he comes from, but I’ll rather have a sms, which I can read or just delete, than someone knocking on my door!!

  3. I was spammed twice by the ANC (including yesterday!) from:


    Nothing from the DA – seems they don’t have my number, Good!

  4. I got 3 messages yesterday all came from +7 something – looked that up and +7 = Russia, all were promoting the DA.

  5. I was not concerned about the messages, I was more concerned about the shambles at the voting location. Two scanners constantly breaking which had to serve literally hundreds of people in queues not diminishing in numbers. After an hour when I eventually got to the front of the row did I find out there was only one scanner working but they were both packing up all the time. With this shambolic arrangement no party deserved a vote in my opinion. It was the same with the previous election so I am astounded that they have not increased the number of scanners or found a more efficient manner of managing the voters. I have no respect for such rubbish and feel that I actually wont make the effort to vote again.

  6. I have a slightly different view. I got 3 from the DA and one from the ANC. I like the fact that political parties are fighting and working harder for people’s votes. Now let’s hope they work just as hard to keep campaign promises.

  7. 3 or 4 SMS messages in 4 years – doesn’t sound like spam to me…

    @LizetteM – Not sure why you think the systems used by the IEC dictate why no political party deserves your vote?

  8. 2 industry associations, ISPA and WASPA, work on the principle that recipients should opt-in to receive email/sms communications.

    Political parties buying lists and spamming is simply not on. The argument that it’s allowed because it’s not commercial is just legal side-stepping. Recipients pay to receive email, and pay to opt-out of sms. Senders of unsolicited political sms don’t even honour opt-out.

    If parties can’t use electronic mediums responsibly they don’t deserve the recipient’s vote.

  9. I got 3 smses from DA and 1 from ANC…

    I also got a call from DA, they knew exactly where I was voting and phoned to tell me that it closed at 7pm and that I must go and vote… They even offered to lift me there and back!

    Exactly where did they get all this information? Which “commercial” database has my voting station?

    Surely requesting votes has a commercial effect? I pay fortunes of taxes and surely more votes = more seats = more cash for the party?

  10. I was sitting on the fence about which party to vote for – but the sms made up my mind for me. No way am I voting for a party that thinks along the same lines as 419ers and p0rno salesmen.

    And I have never given permission for my details to be sold, either, so the claim that they obtained my number legitimately is like someone saying that they didn’t buy stolen goods because they got a receipt.

  11. @LizzetteM
    I respect you veiws on this, and I also had my share of frustrations, but not to vote is playing right into the hands of the very party that “runs” the IEC, who caused all the shambles. They want to grind away at the “informed” voters patience and tolerance until they no longer care to vote…………….quite a sneaky strategy dont you think.

  12. At least the DA called in person – I recd an SMS at 03.06 AM from the ANC & awoke in a panic. They are all using the voters’ roll so know where you are registered etc. I have no problem with them trying to get my vote, it’s the timing that’s an issue. And as soon as the DA knew I had voted (I told them) , they did not call again. I think it was manageable. Without a “do not call” national list, we don’t have much option.

  13. The DA lost my vote. I don’t do business with spammers and criminals. No way I will ever vote for them.

  14. I received 3 SMSs from the DA yesterday and I cannot even vote as I dont have an SA passport.

    More concerning is that these messages are not coming throught the correct SMS channels. They all come in via a foreign number (+85….,+38…..,+35….). Probably cheaper, but definately spam!

  15. If the only thing you can moan about over a political party is how it sent you 2 or 3 SMS messages every few years, then I think they’re doing pretty well. I’ve got 10x more wrong number calls in that period, which are more annoying. Some perspective is needed.

    Everyone seems to sell the lists, and there’s no audit trail back to the original supplier. When they phone/spam you should be able to demand they tell you where they got your details (I’ve tried, but you never get anywhere), as the problem lies with the person who violated your privacy at the source, not the people who bought the lists to spam. You need to opt out of the “root” list, it’s pointless and tedious opting out of the already-sold lists.

  16. Each and everyone that posted a comment here had to divulge our email addresses, not so? Every time you fill in a form, online or not, we have to fill in our telephone numbers. How can anyone say they never divulge personal information. Also, what’s the bet that most these moaners all have facebook profiles, twitter accounts etc. I received the sms’s and had to press 1 button on my cell to read it and another 2 to delete it. What an effort that was!!!! Wake up folks…there is more to worry about in this country than the 3 or 4 sms’s that were delivered to your cell.

  17. I see it this way… my party sms’d , called , informed me and helped me to Vote!
    The IEC moved our voting station 3 times in the past 3 elections… I would not have known or cared if the Party official did not help me with directions, because I moved out of that area.
    They won my vote back!
    It’s all about we being to sensitive when people call ! They are not salemen or spammers they are the people trying to run our country !

  18. @Greg: Sure there are more important issues. However not respecting my rights is just an indication that they will not respect my rights in more important issues.

    I never sold my info so nobody has a right to illegally sell or buy it. Spam messages, commercial or not, should all be opt-in so “your name was on a list” does not cut it. This is just another excuse from a party like the ANC that has no regard for the law.

  19. @Lizette – Overall the voting process was efficient. Citing a broken scanner or a voting station that ran out of ballots does not condemn the elections let alone the parties.

    Agree or disagree with parties policies but I am confident that these elections reflected the will of the people and even better show that our democracy is maturing

  20. @JDT – Who were the criminals? No laws were broken. The CPA does not apply. Neither does the ECT.

    I get sms spam from shops pushing products. 50% of the time there is no opt out

  21. @Dave: I now view the DA as criminals, so I will not vote for them again. Yes, the ECT act does apply. If they think they are above the law because they can get away on a technicality, then I have even less respect for them.

    I also get lots of spam, but I have spent many hours of my time educating spammers about the ECT act and their responsibilities in terms of the act. But the DA just sent a message to the whole country that spamming is OK, and that privacy rights are not going to be enforced by government. So you can expect lots more spam from now on.

  22. @Prom at this point it’s pure speculation that anything illegal or dodgy was done. It’s perfectly possible that the data was gained through legal means. You don’t THINK you sold your data or allowed anyone to divulge it, but maybe someone had some fineprint somewhere that gave them that right. They’re at fault here. It’s them not respecting your privacy.

    I still believe in the concept of innocent until proven guilty… uninformed knee-jerk reactions never result in anything good.

    For the record, I also got spammed, am not particulaly wild about the idea, but am able to put it in perspective. A perfect solution would be for the DA to say where they got the data from.

  23. @Greg, it is most certainly not the victim’s fault. It is the government that:
    1) allowed legislation that favors spammers,
    2) does not enforce even the existing legislation, and
    3) set the wrong example by spamming themselves.

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