Posted by: Malcolm Jarvis
Update from the future: This never actually happened, presumably because the government has had bigger things to contend with than attempting to amend company law in order to make the ICO more effective. It's still an interesting indication of where certain ministers would like to go, and may well resurface once the political environment settles down again.
Over the weekend, the government announced that company directors will soon lose their protection from the 6-figure fines routinely handed out by the ICO. From Spring 2017, company directors will become personally liable for fines of up to half a million pounds each if their company is caught breaking outbound calling regulations.
While I don't agree with the way the ICO hands out fines (companies can't appeal on the grounds they've been sold bad technology or bad data, even if they've since taken steps to become fully compliant), it's easy to see why this change has been made. The ability to shut down one company and open a new one with the same staff, products and, often, premises, made escaping fines too easy. It was going to happen eventually.
What worries me most is that once this legislation is in place, it won't just be companies and jobs that are being taken out of the market by the ICO's fines. The purpose of this change is to force all but the most wealthy entrepreneurs into bankruptcy if they're caught on the wrong side of the regulations. This will leave them with no opportunity for a second go or to learn from their mistakes. In some cases that might be justified. In many cases it won't.
The good news is that early indications are that these powers won't be able to be applied retrospectively. The ICO's enforcement group manager wrote a blog a couple of days ago that suggests that they won't be able to fine directors personally for breaches committed before the new legislation comes in. We'll need to wait and see what the exact wording is before we'll know for sure, but if you have a look at the closing comments you can draw your own conclusions.
I wrote a blog post back in August that covers the current guidelines in detail. If you're in any doubt as to whether your outbound operation meets all the requirements, then there's never been a better or more urgent time to review your call centre technology.