UPDATE: Tough new Irish laws will see businesses face fines of up to €250,000 if they are found guilty of sending unsolicited email.
The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan TD, has signed new legislation to tackle spamming and other unsolicited communications.
Under the new regulations, unsolicited mail for direct marketing purposes will be an indictable offence.
The Data Protection Commissioner can refer serious breaches of the legislation for prosecution through the Circuit Court, where fines of up to €250,000 or 10pc of the company’s turnover, whichever is greater, can be imposed.
Fines for less serious offences will increase from €3,000 to €5,000.
The new regulations are known as ‘European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Data Protection and Privacy)(Amendment) Regulations’.
“Unwanted communication, either by email or to a mobile phone is more than a nuisance – it wastes money and energy,” said Minister Ryan.
“Millions [of euro] every year are lost to Irish companies through lost productivity as spam clogs inboxes and crashes servers.
“Spam is a serious threat to the internet, taking up valuable space on servers and posing significant security risks through viruses.
“Importantly, such communication is a serious invasion of our privacy. More and more, we are seeing marketers contact the consumer via their mobile phone. Evidence shows that spamming increases during the Christmas holidays, making these regulations timely,” Minister Ryan said.
The Data Protection Commissioner, who will oversee the enforcement of these new laws, has reported an eight-fold increase in complaints received. The number of complaints made to the Data Protection Commissioner in relation to spamming has increased from 66 in 2005 to 538 in 2007.
“Making spamming an indictable offence with a hefty price tag for the offenders gives Ireland one of the most stringent enforcement regimes in Europe.
“Spam is spam and it has no future. Marketers must carefully build up relationships with their customers over time and make sure that any marketing has the permission of the consumer.
“This will help secure our digital economy, as well as reducing costs and annoyance,” Minister Ryan said.
The tougher data protection laws have been welcomed by the Data Protection Commissioner, Billy Hawkes. He said: “The signing of these regulations by the Minister is an important and significant step in the fight against unsolicited communications for marketing purposes. I welcome the increase in penalties which have come into effect and I am confident that the strengthening of the law in this area will help me in my task to enforce the regulations concerning unsolicited communications.
“I want to take this opportunity to remind persons engaged in direct marketing activities that my office continues to pay close attention to the whole area of unsolicited communications by telephone, fax, email and text message.
“The new regulations, together with the serving of a considerable volume of summonses by my office in the past 15 months, serve to send a strong message to all involved in direct marketing about the necessity of compliance with the law.”
“I want, in particular, to send a message to all involved in business to familiarise themselves with the law which applies to unsolicited communications for direct marketing purposes. Increasingly, in this period of economic downturn, my office is receiving complaints about businesses making unsolicited contact with their past customers for marketing purposes.
“In many cases, such contact is unlawful and, if carried out by telephone, text message or email it may be a criminal offence. Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse for non-compliance, and I will have no hesitation in applying the full force of the new regulations to offenders,” Hawkes warned.
By John Kennedy