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Information Commissioner gets new powers to fine for spam emails

Organisations that make unwanted marketing phone calls or send spam emails to consumers could face fines of up to £500,000, the Government has warned.04 May 2011

Increased financial penalties will come into force later this month as part of amendments to the UK's Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

Data protection watchdog the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO will also be given greater investigatory and auditory powers).

The changes to PECR will allow the ICO to fine businesses and other organisations for serious breaches of the regulations, including sending unwanted marketing emails and texts as well as making live and automated marketing phone calls. It can already administer fines of up to £500,000 for data protection offences.

The ICO's increased investigatory powers will allow the Commissioner to demand information from telecommunications companies and internet service providers (ISPs), to help with investigations into breaches of the regulations.

Telecommunications companies and ISPs will also have to notify the ICO and their customers in certain circumstances if a personal data breach occurs. The ICO will be able to audit these companies and ISPs to ensure they comply with this requirement.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham welcomed the new powers and said guidance on the changes would be issued soon.

"The ICO has been calling for increased powers to regulate breaches of PECR for some time," Graham said. "The changes to the Regulations will grant us the right to impose significant monetary penalties for the most serious breaches of the rules and give us improved powers to investigate companies that make nuisance marketing calls."

The amended laws are being implemented to ensure the UK comes into line with new European data privacy laws.

Under the EU's Electronic Communications Framework, the ICO will also enforce new rules surrounding cookies and similar technologies which can be used to track user activity online.

The Government indicated the plans as part of its response to the consultation around the Electronic Communications Framework (88-page / 388KB PDF), published last month.

Technology law news is also available from Bootlaw, a free resource for technology start-ups, with regular events hosted by Pinsent Masons.