Warning over illegal trade in people’s information

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Warning over illegal trade in people’s information

Companies selling marketing lists are breaking the law if people haven’t been told how their information will be used.

That’s the warning from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) as it fines a Birmingham company £20,000 for unlawfully trading personal information.

An ICO investigation found The Data Supply Company had sold more than 580,000 records containing people’s details. This resulted in 21,000 spam texts being sent by the firm who bought the information.

Steve Eckersley, ICO Head of Enforcement, said:

“The unlawful trade in personal data leads directly to the sending of spam texts and the making of nuisance calls. The people whose details were traded by this company would have been unaware of who they would be passed on to. That’s unacceptable.

“Whether your company is collecting, using, buying or selling people’s personal information, it must be clear and open with them about what it plans to do with their details. Fail to do so and your firm is breaking the law and risking a hefty fine.”

The Data Supply Company Ltd was a data broker which bought people’s details from various sources before selling them on to other companies for marketing.

One of the places the firm acquired personal information from was other firms’ websites, where many of the privacy notices were too general and unspecific to comply with the law. For example, one read: “We may share your information with carefully selected third parties where they are offering products or services that we believe will be of interest to you.”

The company has told the ICO it is no longer trading in personal data. The ICO has previously fined the firm which sent the spam text messages using contact details it bought from The Data Supply Company.

Notes for Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  1. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  1. The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The ICO has the power to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
  1. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:

fairly and lawfully processed;

processed for limited purposes;

adequate, relevant and not excessive;

accurate and up to date;

not kept for longer than is necessary;

processed in line with your rights;

secure; and

not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.

  1. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) sit alongside the Data Protection Act. They give people specific privacy rights in relation to electronic communications.

There are specific rules on:

marketing calls, emails, texts and faxes;

cookies (and similar technologies);

keeping communications services secure; and

customer privacy as regards traffic and location data, itemised billing, line identification, and directory listings.

We aim to help organisations comply with PECR and promote good practice by offering advice and guidance. We will take enforcement action against organisations that persistently ignore their obligations.

  1. Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
  1. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  1. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.
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