The powers form part of new proposals to crack down on unsolicited electronic communications (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 rapidly growing.
The new proposals set in stone the ‘opt-in’ process which requires businesses to gain prior consent before sending advertising emails, text messages and 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.
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. Persistent offenders could be taken to the magistrate’s court where they could face fines of up to £5,000. More serious cases could go before a jury and face much higher fines,’ said a DTI spokeswoman.
‘Additionally if a consumer or company faces extra expense because of these emails or have been distressed by the contents, they could take the offenders to court and sue them,’ she 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 more emphasis on implementing technology either at ISP level or on computers to prevent spam. The DTI accepts legislation alone will not be enough to stem the tide of spam as the majority of these 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 sets out clear guidelines for companies and ISPs giving them a more robust system to work with,’ said the DTI.
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