Spammers will be fined up to £500,000 by the UK's privacy authority for distributing unwanted marketing materials under new rules due in late May.
The regulatory powers were announced by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) on Wednesday and will come into force when the UK's Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) are amended on 25 May. PECR is being amended so that UK legislation conforms to the updated EU e-Privacy Directive, which also takes effect on 25 May.
"It's an EC-led change and the directive comes into force on the 25 May, so by 25 May the UK must publish recommendations for how it will meet it," a spokesman for the ICO told ZDNet UK on Friday. "With regards to our increased powers, we know what will be involved but we don't know precisely until the final details are confirmed."
Once the PECR amendments come in, the ICO should be able to fine those who breach them up to £500,000. Targets could include organisations that send unwanted marketing emails, texts and phone calls, and those that run automated marketing phone banks.
Prior to the amendment, the ICO's powers around marketing have been "far more limited", the spokesman said. "[Previously] someone would do marketing then we'd write to the company involved and if we felt it was bad, then we'd tell them [that the individuals'] details must be suppressed... We'd only take further action if a company was found to be in serious breach [of the rules]."
As part of its investigations, the ICO will also be able to demand information from ISPs and telecommunications companies, who will be required to notify the ICO and affected customers if private data is incorrectly disclosed or used.
The ICO has also been given stronger audit powers to check companies for compliance with the personal data-breach notification requirements.
Finally, the ICO will regulate new rules for websites using tracking cookies and related technologies, as they are implemented.