The powers form part of a crackdown on unsolicited electronic communications (commonly known as ‘spam’) under the European Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, which comes into force on 31 October.
Spam is a major headache for businesses and consumers, and accounts for nearly 40% of global emails, according to DTI estimates – and the problem is growing rapidly.
The new proposals set in stone the ‘opt-in’ process that requires businesses to gain consent before sending advertising emails or text messages, or making phone calls.
Companies using electronic communications to send out advertising will also have to provide customers with greater transparency and choice in how their personal details are used.
This means the use of tracking software by companies, which allows them to analyse consumers’ internet surfing habits, must be clearly indicated so that people are given the opportunity to reject it.
The Information Commissioner’s Office will monitor complaints and has the power to take persistent offenders to court. ‘The Information Commissioner’s Office will be in charge of this area and will react to complaints and go after businesses,’ said a spokeswoman for the DTI.
Persistent offenders could be taken to a magistrate’s court where they could face fines of up to £5,000.
More serious cases could go before a jury and face higher fines.
‘Additionally, if a consumer or company faces expense because of these emails or if they have been distressed by the contents, they could take the offenders to court and sue them,’ the spokeswoman said.
The DTI has started a three-month consultation period, which ends on 19 June, before the guidelines are drawn up later in the summer.
The Direct Marketing Association, which has welcomed the consultation period, fears stringent regulations will stifle European businesses and put them at a disadvantage.
It has called for greater emphasis on implementing technology, either at ISP level or on individual computers, that can prevent spam.
But the DTI accepts that legislation alone will not be enough to stem the tide of spam, as the majority of the emails are generated outside EU jurisdiction in the US and Far East.
‘Spam isn’t something we are going to solve overnight but the proposals put in place a framework and set out clear guidelines for companies and ISPs, giving them a more robust system to work with,’ said the DTI.
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