The Department for Culture Media and Sport has today announced that it is to amend the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 so as to remove the requirement that unlawful nuisance calls and texts are a source of “substantial damage or substantial distress”; that being the test which must be met in order for the Information Commissioner to impose a monetary penalty notice (“MPN”): section 55A(1) of the Data Protection Act 1998.
The plan, which was the subject of consultation (see my post here), is apparently to drop the substantial damage/distress limb altogether. Draft legislation has not yet been published, so we can’t comment on the precise way this is going to be done, or whether there are any other ramifications. But such legislation will have to come soon, because the plan is to implement the change from 6 April 2015. The change will radically increase the ability of the ICO to issue MPNs to the companies which routinely flout the provisions of PECR, but which cause limited distress.
DCMS has also trailed the, as yet unexplained, idea that “We’re also going to look at whether the powers the ICO have to hold to account board level executives for such behaviour are sufficient or we need to do more.” Not clear at the moment what is meant by ‘looking at’, and it may be that another consultation is on the way.
The Government’s announcement can be read here.
Update: The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 have now been published and do simply remove the damage/distress limb of the section 55A test when it applies under PECR. It also adds provisions permitting emergency alerts to be sent, placing a limit on the length of time that providers may retain the traffic and location data they process, unless the data is modified in such a way that the data cannot identify an individual or corporate body.