In which I praise the ICO, and implore people to report nuisance callers.
I was in conversation with a group of friends recently, and the topic of nuisance calls came up. Each of my friends described continually receiving unsolicited, often agressive, calls, despite the fact that they were registered with the Telephone Preference Scheme. I said they must complain to the Information Commissioner’s dedicated service because the ICO was now taking breaches of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR) seriously (actually, I didn’t say it in quite those terms, because although my friends like to deride me, I try not to give them too much ammunition). I got a lot of replies of “I might”, but also some of “it won’t do any good”. In support of the fact that it might do some good I was able point to the three recent civil Monetary Penalty Notices (MPNs) for breaches of PECR issued to Christopher Niebel and Gary McNeish, joint owners of Tetrus Telecoms and DM Design Bedroom Ltd.
And today, two more MPNs have been issued, to two companies owned by “Save Britain Money Ltd” a company which, in what appear to be rather embarrassing circumstances for the BBC, is currently featuring in a fly-on-the-wall documentary series about call centres.
We need a regulator to take firm and public action for breaches of privacy laws, and it is pleasing to see the ICO doing so with nuisance callers. However, in order for practices to really change, nuisance callers need to be reported to the ICO, at every opportunity. The principle of a penalty pour encourager les autres only works if les autres are scared about what legal non-compliance can lead to.
And I note from a recent internal ICO report that, as at 10 June, both the DM Design and the McNeish MPNs were overdue for payment (Niebel has appealed his Notice). Penalties in the tens of thousands of pounds can potentially be ruinous for businesses. The ICO statutory guidance on MPNs provides that
a monetary penalty notice will not impose undue financial hardship on an otherwise responsible person
But this leaves open the possibility that an MPN might some times impose due hardship, on an otherwise irresponsible person. If future nuisance callers wilfully act irresponsibly, a financially-crippling MPN might not constitute undue hardship.
As someone who works in the public sector, and who trains other public sector partners in their obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), I can attest to the beneficial effect MPNs for DPA breaches (added to the willingness of the ICO to impose them) have had on data security and knowledge (it doesn’t half focus the minds of senior managers when you remind them that security vulnerabilities carry a risk of a £500,000 “fine”). Enforcement of the law does change things, and we should praise the ICO for what he is doing with nuisance callers, while continuing to report miscreants.
Now, how about some FOI enforcement…?