The Information Commissioner is to be given more powers to tackle nuisance calls, texts and emails. This could see a ‘best practice’ guide becoming legally binding; a seismic shift with significant impact on everyone involved in Direct Marketing.
The news came as the Government unveiled its Digital Economy Bill in the Queen’s Speech. As well as measures to “enable the building of world-class digital infrastructure” and “support new digital economies,” the Bill aims to beef up protection for consumers. The precise detail won’t be known until the Bill is drafted later this year, but will include measures to protect consumers from spam email and nuisance calls by ensuring consent is obtained for direct marketing.
This is likely to go further than simply bolstering the Information Commissioner’s powers to impose fines on rule-breakers. It clearly follows on from comments by Baroness Neville Rolfe at the DMA’s Data Protection conference earlier this year; “We are exploring potential options for further regulation. This could include putting the ICO’s direct marketing guidance on a statutory footing. This would provide clarity on the responsibilities of those who instigate direct marketing calls [and] clarify the rules around time limits on third party consent.”
In recent years the ICO has clearly demonstrated a determination to tackle rogue companies, with a significant number of firms being investigated and given hefty fines. Its updated Direct Marketing Guidance, published in March, reinforced the Regulator’s tougher stance. Featuring heavily were issues such as consent, third party data lists and charity fundraising methods.
The Guidance currently acts as a ‘best practice’ guide and a goes beyond current legislation. It does still leave some grey areas and gives some leeway in direct marketing practices. But if ‘best practice’ becomes law everyone, not just the rogues, will face tighter regulation, scrutiny and sanctions.
Outgoing Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said, “strengthening the rules around direct marketing by putting our guidance on a statutory footing will help us fight the nuisance of unwanted calls and give our enforcement action extra bite. .. .. Companies that flout the rules must be brought to book and any change that empowers us to do that even more effectively is to be welcomed. We look forward to seeing more detail about how this would work in practice.”
We will wait to see what unfolds. If the guidance is given statutory status it will fall under the new Commissioner’s watch as Canadian Elizabeth Denham takes up the role this Summer.
The direction of travel, however, is clear – Government and regulators favour a codified, transparent approach to data. This new regulatory terrain will mean more compliance for business, but opportunities too. Smart companies will recognise and seize them as they arise.
The information provided and the opinions expressed in this document represent the views of the Data Protection Network. They do not constitute legal advice and cannot be construed as offering comprehensive guidance on the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or other statutory measures referred to.