By Christopher Graham, Information Commissioner.
The government has today announced that it wants to make it easier for the ICO to fine companies that make nuisance calls or send spam text messages. But what could that mean in practice?
1. Spam texters held to account
Any company sending you a marketing text without your permission is already breaking the law. But a court ruled against a fine we issued in 2012 to someone who was doing just that. As it stands, the law requires the ICO to prove ‘substantial harm or substantial distress’. Although we’ve used what powers we have, that court decision did limit our powers to fine firms sending spam texts. Making it easier for us to make fines stick should create more of a deterrent, and that would lower how many nuisance messages we all get.
2. Companies will need to play by the rules
It’s a myth that nuisance calls are all from a handful of bad guys. In September, the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) received over 2,000 complaints about nuisance calls. Of those, 38 companies featured in more than ten complaints. That suggests they’re probably breaking the law, but not in a way serious enough for the ICO to be able to fine them. The law change proposed today would change that, and I think we’d see a lot of these companies cleaning up their act.
3. More fines means fewer calls and texts
While fines for nuisance calls and texts are relatively new, we’ve had the power to issue fines for other data breaches for four and a half years now. Recent independent analysis of those Data Protection Act fines showed that 60 per cent of organisations had looked to improve their compliance with the law after a company in their sector was fined. More fines for companies making nuisance calls and sending spam texts should have the same affect.
4. People complaining will be more important than ever
We received 161,720 concerns about nuisance calls and texts last year – that’s more than twice the number of people who filled the World Cup final stadium this summer. That’s a lot of people who want to see us take action, and their complaints have meant we’ve been able to raid offices and call centres, prosecute people and issue fines. But we want to do more. The law changes proposed today would help us do that, but we still need people to report the companies breaking the rules. You can report a nuisance call or a spam text to us online.
|Christopher Graham, Information Commissioner, has a range of responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Data Protection Act 1998 and related laws.|
Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said:
“The public clearly want to see a stop to nuisance calls and texts. We welcome this proposed change in the law which will enable the ICO to make more fines stick, sending a clear message to the spammers and scammers that the rules around cold calls and spam texts must be followed.
The majority of rogue marketing firms make hundreds, rather than thousands, of calls and the nuisance is no less a nuisance for falling short of the ‘substantial’ threshold. This change means we could now target those many companies sending unwanted messages – and we think consumers would see a definite drop off in the total number of spam calls and texts.”
Last updated 25/10/2014