Cold calls and texts top privacy breaches

16 May 2007

Cold calls to homes and unsolicited text messages accounted for 39pc of all complaints received by the Data Protection Commissioner last year. These were followed by access rights disclosure (28pc), direct marketing (6pc) and accuracy of information (5pc).

The key issues of concern amongst the public today are mobile telephone companies and requests from local authorities for customer data, the use of publicly available data for direct marketing purposes, the use of email for direct marketing and the outsourcing of ICT projects and hosting of patient files in the health sector.

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) said it received 20,000 enquiries during 2006 while its website was accessed over 69,000 times from within Ireland.

The ODPC concluded 535 formal complaints in 2006; 658 new complaints were received, compared with 300 in 2005.

The Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes attributed the large increase to breaches of the Privacy in Electronic Communications Regulation, mainly in the form of unsolicited text messages.

Hawkes said that 65pc of the complaints received in 2006 were settled informally, 7pc were upheld or partially upheld and 28pc were not upheld.

Telecoms firms featured strongly among the main offenders of 2006 with the commissioner acting on what he termed “intrusive practices” by Opera Telecom, Talk Talk, Newtel and Gaelic Telecom.

The media also came under the commissioner’s glare in respect to their data protection obligations and the limits of the applicable public interest exemption under the Data Protection Act.

Public and private bodies, including Ulster Bank, were cited for gathering excessive personal data.

Computer manufacturer Dell was criticised for failing to ensure that its direct marketing practices were compliant with the various Data Protection Acts, particularly in relation to recording individuals’ preferences not to receive further material.

Looking to 2007, the commissioner is understood to be working to finalise a number of codes of practice to assist in the sectoral understanding of data protection issues, including working with the insurance sector and the gardai.

He also alluded to the ongoing crackdown on the problems posed by unsolicited text messages to mobile phones and will work to integrate privacy into new technologies.

By John Kennedy