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DMA calls for prison sentences for worst and repeat breaches of data protection

The Direct Marketing Association has called for custodial sentences to be applied to those who repeatedly breach data protection laws by making illegal nuisance calls.
The suggestion comes after the Government extended powers to fine the individuals behind some of the companies that are breaking the law when it comes to making these calls. From Spring 2017 the Information Commissioner’s Office will be able to hold rogue directors personally responsible for breaches under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). The directors of these companies will be liable for fines up to £500,000 each.
However, many companies found guilty avoid paying the fines by going into liquidation. According to figures from Which?, the ICO has collected in full just four of the 22 fines it had issued in the previous 12 months.
Hence the DMA Group’s proposal to introduce the option of prison sentences to ensure that those responsible for nuisance calls and spam texts are held to account.
Chris Combemale, CEO at the DMA Group, said:

“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.”

Specifically the DMA is asking for custodial sentences for the worst breaches of data protection law. The new rules by the Government cover only breaches to the PECR but not the Data Protection Act (1998). The DMA believes the broader remit would help tackle the root problem of companies using bad data.
Combemale added:


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“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.”

ICO support for extending liability

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham confirmed in her evidence to the Digital Economy Bill Committee that she supports extending liability and accountability to directors.  She said:

“Our office has issued fines that totalled about £4 million in the last year, but the problem is that we have been able to collect only a small proportion of those fines because companies go out of business and, as in a game of whack-a-mole, appear somewhere else. It is important for us to be able to hold directors to account for serious contraventions.”