Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Data protection - is it working?

My partner's 87 year old mother was distressed by more than a dozen 'silent' telephone calls yesterday.

We signed her up for the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) a couple of years ago so that she wouldn't receive nuisance marketing calls (So called 'silent' calls are when the sales company's computerised switchboard dials your number but they don't have any free salespeople to pick up the call - so the computer keeps dialling you until they do).

We asked her to dial 1471 and write down the number the calls were coming from. I put the number 08716641456 into google ('I didn't know you could do that!' exclaims my partner). Someone has helpfully listed it as belonging to Satellite Direct UK. I'd heard of these people recently on BBC's Watchdog. A quick trip to the BBC's website. Satellite Direct has been harassing Sky Television subscribers posing as Sky and trying to sell insurance for the dish and set-top box. Sky brought a high court action against them last year, but it seems they continue to operate.

But surely Sky Customers who are registered with the Telephone Preference Service should be protected from these unsolicited nuisance calls? In theory yes, but apparently not. The Information Commissioner has reminded Satellite Direct to observe their responsibilities under the Data Protection Act (and respect the TPS list of registered people who don't want to receive marketing calls) but it continues to ignore him. The Data Protection legislation sounds like a good idea - but is it working?

Do bosses of companies who fail to comply with The Law face prosecution and imprisonment? No. But surely they face huge fines for breaches of Data Protection Law? Nope. So how much can they be fined? Nothing, zero, zilch. All the Information Commissioner can do is remind them of their obligations under the Act.

An 87 year old lady is at home alone scared to answer her own phone which rings incessantly. It could be her daughter checking to see if she's OK - spreading more alarm when the phone goes unanswered. Meanwhile Satellite Direct UK lines its pockets.

Who is this Data Protection legislation protecting?

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