The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is to write to more than 1,000 companies who are involved in buying and selling personal data, as it aims to reduce the number of nuisance calls that the general public receive.
According to the data protection regulator, the firms are all believed to play some role in the compiling and trading of lists of names and numbers used by cold callers.
In its letter, the ICO will ask businesses to explain how they comply with the law, including what data they share, how they get individuals’ consent for their data to be shared, as well as a list of all the companies they’ve worked with in the past six months.
The aim is for the ICO to better understand how data is being used, whether it is being used unlawfully, and then use this information to improve the way it provides guidance and education to the list broking sector and the companies who buy from it.
If firms do not respond to the ICO’s letter, the watchdog will take action to ensure information is provided, and if necessary will take the company to court. One such firm – ironically a cold calling prevention team called Nuisance Call Blocker Ltd – was prosecuted in October for failing to respond to an information notice. The company was fined £2,500, ordered to pay a £120 victim surcharge and £429.85 in legal fees.
Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said that information from consumers, as well as whistleblowers and network providers, has helped the organisation to make some big breakthroughs in the nuisance calls business.
“We see clear patterns building up and can identify who would benefit from guidance, and who the truly bad actors are. This enables us to execute search warrants, to drag people before the courts, and to issue fines,” he said.
Graham added that the ICO had three fines lined up for this week, meaning it will have issued £1m worth of penalties in this area over the past four months.
But he emphasised the importance of cracking down on the list broking sector in particular.
“There’s a danger that where we remove one of this Hydra’s heads, two grow back in its place. By targeting the illegitimate aspects of the list broking business that fuels this industry, we have the chance to truly strike down this monster,” he said.