The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has welcomed new powers as part of the UK's implementation of key EU privacy rules allowing the watchdog to fine firms up to £500,000 for sending unwanted marketing communications.
The amendment to the UK's Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) comes into force on 25 May to ensure that the UK complies with the updated EU data privacy directive.
The new powers include the ability to fine companies up to £500,000 if they seriously breach the PECR by sending unwanted marketing emails and texts, or live and automated marketing phone calls.
The ICO will also be responsible for auditing and investigating telcos and ISPs to check that they comply with new mandatory data breach notification rules that come into force as part of the amendments.
The watchdog has also been tasked with regulating compliance with the controversial new guidelines on cookies. According to some experts, businesses are currently struggling to prepare for the new rules as they have been given no guidance from the government.
"The ICO has been calling for increased powers to regulate breaches of PECR for some time," said information commissioner Christopher Graham.
"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."
However, experts have often criticised the ICO for not making the most of its powers to levy financial penalties. It was revealed this week, for example, that the ICO has fined less than one per cent of those organisations reporting a breach of the Data Protection Act.
"We are dealing with a total market and regulatory failure for data handling," argued Stewart Room, partner at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP.
"While we have innovations such as giving the ICO audit rights and the [power to levy] financial penalties, it will achieve little in a substantive sense."
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