The Digital Economy Bill and what it means for Direct Marketers

Today The Digital Economy Bill gets its second reading in Parliament. It had its first outing on 5th July, however, this stage was just formality and takes place without any debate. The second reading is the first opportunity for MPs to debate the main principles of the Bill. 

Once the debate has been opened the official Opposition spokesperson will respond with their views on the Bill. The debate will then continue with other Opposition parties and backbench MPs giving their opinions. At the end of the debate, the Commons decides whether the Bill should be given its second reading by voting, meaning it can proceed to the next stage: The Committee Stage.

The Bill is a large one coving many different areas. Its aim is to make the UK the most digital nation in the world. It contains provision about electronic communications infrastructure and services; to provide for restricting access to online pornography; to make provision about protection of intellectual property in connection with electronic communications; to make provision about data-sharing; to make provision about functions of OFCOM in relation to the BBC; to provide for determination by the BBC of age-related TV licence fee concessions; to make provision about the regulation of direct marketing; to make other provision about OFCOM and its functions; and for connected purposes.

It is enormously relevant to the direct marketing industry since Part 6 of the Bill contains a clause about direct marketing governance.

Currently The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) produces Direct Marketing Guidance to organisations, which provides them with an overview on the direct marketing rules under the DPA and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). However, neither the DPA nor PECR imposes an obligation on organisations to have regard to the guidance, or establishes any consequences on an organisation or individual that fails to comply with the best practice guide. The non-statutory nature of the guidance has led to misinterpretation, and difficulty for the ICO in prosecuting firms that breach the direct marketing rules. Putting this guidance on a statutory footing will make it easier for non-compliant firms to be prosecuted.

It is thought that making ICO’s Direct Marketing Guidance law would support a reduction in the number of unwanted direct marketing calls and mistargeted mail; and make it easier for the Information Commissioner to take enforcement action against those organisations in breach of the direct marketing rules under the DPA and the PECR.

It is expected that the Bill will become law in the Spring of 2017, so preceding GDPR by a year. It is crucial that organisations which practice direct marketing keep abreast of the changing legislative landscape or risk debilitating sanctions.