The move, revealed by Lord Gardiner of Kimble, will address growing concerns about nuisance calls, although the Tory peer refused to confirm reports that the threshold will be slashed from 1,000 to 5 complaints to trigger action.
“We are also actively considering the scope to legislate to lower the legal threshold the ICO needs to demonstrate before issuing a monetary penalty,” Lord Gardiner said. “We are assessing the business case and the cost before we take action on this.”
He added: “We are absolutely determined to take action on this issue. That is why the Minister for Culture, Communications & Creative Industries has initiated and led a serious of meetings over the past 18 months which have brought together the key interested parties to press for change. Unsolicited calls and texts are a problem, but we have to be careful that, in dealing with this issue, we do not harm the direct marketing industry, which is a legitimate industry that provides employment and opportunities in support of our economy.”
Under the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) the Information Commissioner’s Office can fine businesses up to £500,000 for serious breaches of the rules, including unwanted marketing emails and texts or live and automated marketing phone calls to individuals.
But the watchdog must show that a number of legal tests have been satisfied, including that the measure that any call or text was likely to cause “substantial damage or substantial distress”.
This has become a more pressing issue following two successful challenges in the High Court, which have seen two cases – the £440,000 fine for Tetrus Telecoms and a £250,000 fine against Scottish Borders Council – overturned.
An ICO spokesman said: “The public is clear that it wants to see a stop put to nuisance text messages. The fines we issue help to achieve that, and if we are prevented from issuing fines then it’s fair to expect that the public will receive more of these messages.”
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