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The Justice Select Committee’s call for custodial sentences to be handed out for breaches of the Data Protection Act must prompt the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to start to get tough on text spam, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has said. 

Commenting on the recommendations of the Justice Committee’s report, Mark Brill, chair of the DMA’s Mobile Marketing Council, said:

“We welcome the government’s commitment to banning referral fees and increasing the deterrent to the criminals who breach the Data Protection Act. 

“However, we disagree that the ICO needs extra powers to investigate the kinds of data abuses outlined in the report; the ICO already has all the powers it needs to investigate wrong doing but isn’t using them.  

“This is a good opportunity for the ICO to start to get tough on the scourge of text spam. If spam is a possible sign of criminal activity then the ICO should use the powers it already has to investigate consumer complaints and take action. To date it has failed to so. 

“That the ICO has not taken action is reflected in the fact that very few people know who to turn to when they receive SMS spam. We’re particularly concerned that little is being done to protect the consumer and the legitimate multi-million pound SMS marketing industry.”

This year, the DMA formed a working party with representatives from Ofcom, Ministry of Justice, Information Commissioner’s Office and Office of Fair Trading and mobile service providers to address the issue of clamping down on SMS spam. 

As highlighted by the findings of the Justice Committee’s report Referral fees and the theft of personal data: evidence from the Information Commissioner, organisations including car insurers, police, towing companies, garages, hospitals, and accident management companies have been caught supplying data to personal injury lawyers. This information is then used by claims companies to send unsolicited text, or SMS, spam messages to people that have come into contact with these organisations, typically through being involved in car crashes or from suffering accidents. 

Research conducted by the DMA in June highlighted the scale of the problem, revealing that 43 per cent of adult mobile users have received one or more SMS messages regarding accident claims, debt management or the mis-selling of personal protection insurance.

The DMA is particularly concerned that consumers are not aware that the ICO is responsible for enforcing the rules concerning SMS spam. In the DMA’s summer poll of 1,200 UK adults, just three per cent identified the ICO as being the regulatory body to complain to; 46 per cent said they had no idea who they would lodge a complaint with in the event of receiving SMS spam. 

Contact
Tristan Garrick, DMA PR manager
Tel 020 7291 3315
Email tristan.garrick@dma.org.uk 

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