Call for custodial sentences for worst nuisance callers

The DMA has called for custodial sentences for the worst nuisance callers.
The DMA has called for custodial sentences for the worst nuisance callers.

The DMA, the trade association for the one-to-one marketing industry, is calling for custodial sentences to be made available to punish those that repeatedly make illegal nuisance calls.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) recently announced that from spring 2017, it would be able to hold rogue directors personally responsible for breaches under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), making them liable for fines up to £500,000 each.

But according to figures from Which? earlier this year, the ICO has collected just four out of 22 fines in full that it issued over the past 12 months, with many companies going into liquidation to avoid paying.

While the new measure for personal director responsibility is a step in the right direction, the DMA is calling for Government to go one step further and bring in custodial sentences for the worst breaches of data protection law, to ensure that those responsible for nuisance calls and spam texts are held to account.

Chris Combemale, CEO at the DMA Group, says, “It should come as no surprise that individuals willing to skirt the law when it suits them are also ready to do the same to avoid paying their debts. That’s why the powers of the ICO have recently been extended to also allow it to fine the directors that set up multiple companies to avoid justice.

“We wholeheartedly support the extension of fines to the individuals that are behind the rogue businesses, but for the worst and repeat offenders we believe the penalties should extend to custodial sentences as well. The Justice Secretary has the powers, which were introduced in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, but it’s now time they were used.”

Unfortunately, the new rules invoked by the Government for personal director responsibility relates only to breaches under PECR and not the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA).

That’s why the DMA is asking for custodial sentences for the worst breaches of data protection law to get to the root of the problem, echoing calls from the ICO, which also supports the introduction of custodial sentences.

The Justice Secretary has power under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 to introduce a new statutory instrument, but it requires a positive vote in both Houses of Parliament to allow custodial sentences for breaches of Section 55 of the DPA.

Mr Combemale added: “The introduction of custodial sentences is the next step in the campaign against nuisance calls and spam texts. The individuals profiting from these rogue businesses may well think twice about breaking data protection law if there is a real threat that they may go to prison for it.”

A Northumberland Gazette campaign to stop nuisance robocalls in 2014 played a key role in a change in the law, which was announced last February. Prior to its introduction, firms could only be punished for cold-calling if it was proved the call caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’. But from April 6 last year, that legal requirement was removed and it is now be up to the ICO to assess when a serious contravention has taken place.