New powers for the ICO

Watch out for sanctions for unsolicited calls or emails

Tough new powers have been given to the Information Commissioner’s office this week to fine up to £500,000.00 in the case of unsolicited and unwanted marketing phone calls or emails to consumers. Recent cases suggest that the Commissioner is ready to get tough in an overall increased regulatory and enforcement environment.

The new powers are created by an amendment to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) which governs direct forms of electronic marketing and the changes will come into effect on 25th May 2011, so organisations need to get ready and ensure policies and procedures are checked and tightened up..

There are differences between telephone and email marketing. With telephone marketing the individual receiving the call needs to be asked whether they want to opt out, whereas with email campaigns the individual contacted needs to specifically opt in.

Historically many companies seem to have taken the view that non-compliance with ICO rules is so widespread that they need not worry due to safety in numbers. Whilst it may be correct that it is unlikely fines will be at the higher end for smaller companies and minor breaches, it would be unwise to treat this as just another bout of sabre rattling and so specific legal advice should be sought if in any doubt.

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