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'Government letting people down' on nuisance calls, says Information Commissioner

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has urged the Government to change the law surrounding nuisance calls and text messages.

Under the 2003 Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, companies must ensure that they do not conduct individuals who have 'opted out' using the Telephone Preference Service.  Since 2011 the ICO has had the power to fine business in default up to £500,000 for breach.  However, it is necessary to show that the contravention will cause “substantial damage” or “substantial distress”.

In Niebel 2014 UKUT 255 AAC the Upper Tribunal held that the Lower Tribunal (who had heard Mr Niebel's appeal against a fine for his company sending spam messages) was entitled to conclude that the 'substantial' threshold had not been passed after 286 text messages had been sent to various recipients in the way that it might have been if the messages had been sent to hundreds of thousands of recipients.

The decision in Niebel has increased calls for legislative reform, including a lowering of the damage/distress threshold.

Mr Graham said: "The current rules around marketing calls are a licence for spammers and scammers. The elderly and vulnerable are particularly at risk, and this can only add to the worries of those who care for them. The Government is letting people down.  Time and time again the Government talks about changing the law and clamping down on this problem, but so far it's just that - talk. Today they are holding yet another roundtable to discuss the issue, and we seem to be going round in circles. The Government need to lay the order, change the law and bring in a reform that would make a real difference."


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