New Rules on Privacy and Electronic Communications

The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) (Amendment) Regulations 2011, which came into force on 26 May 2011, make certain changes to the laws that cover direct marketing by electronic means.

Serious breaches of the rules surrounding the sending of unwanted text messages, emails and marketing telephone calls can now lead to fines of up to £500,000.

The Regulations also amend the rules that apply to websites using cookies and similar technologies to remember a user’s preferences. Whereas previously websites were required to provide information about cookies they used and tell visitors to the site how they could ‘opt out’, the new rules require that websites wanting to use cookies gain the visitor’s consent in most cases.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has enhanced investigative powers that allow it to require telecoms and Internet service providers to cooperate with its investigations of breaches of the Regulations.

The ICO has issued guidance on the changes. The guidance states that organisations have 12 months to make sure they comply with the new rules regarding cookies. Although no fines will be issued until May 2012, the ICO anticipates receiving complaints about cookies in the interim period. In this event, it is expected to ask organisations to explain the steps they are taking to ensure that they will be in a position to comply with the Regulations by May 2012. Website owners who cannot demonstrate that they are taking the action necessary may be issued with a warning notice that will be taken into account by the ICO after expiry of the 12-month lead-in period.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.