Information Commissioner 'low on power' for spam fight

MPs have called for extra money to fight spammers, but the Information Commissioner's office says that more authority is the real answer

The UK's Information Commissioner has not been provided with the necessary muscle to protect UK citizens against spammers, according to the All Party Internet Group (APIG).

Speaking on Monday, at the launch of its report into the growing problem of unsolicited bulk email, APIG urged the government to provide extra funds and to allow groups of people to bring legal action against spammers.

The government's anti-spam legislation, which aims to protect consumers from junk email, comes into force later this year. It will allow the Information Commission to prosecute offenders, who could face a fine of up to £5,000.

At a press conference on Monday, Richard Allan MP, APIG vice chairman, warned that "although the legislation comes into force on 11 December, the Information Commissioner's office won't be able to take action against offenders because it does not have the resources to do it."

Several companies and organisations that responded to the government consultation into the anti-spam laws this summer warned that the Information Commissioner would need additional funding in order to deal effectively with spammers. But the line from the Information Commissioner is that a more important issue is the government's failure to give it enough clout to clamp down quickly on transgressors.

Speaking to ZDNet UK on Tuesday, Elizabeth Dunn, compliance manager at the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC), explained that her organisation wants the power to issue "stop now" orders where necessary.

"We'll always try and resolve a problem informally first, but where informal action hasn't worked, we'd like to have the ability to take direct action," Dunn said.

Dunn explained that the procedure for taking action against companies that fall foul of the guidelines on acceptable online marketing is a lengthy one. As firms that receive an enforcement notice by the OIC can appeal, the process can easily take a year or more -- during which time the firm wouldn’t be bound by the enforcement notice.

The DTI has told the OIC that it may review these procedures once they have bedded in, and Dunn explained that in the meantime its existing power will be exercised vigorously against companies that spam UK consumers.