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Information commissioner: regulate with discretion

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New powers to prosecute rogue marketers will not be pursued for the sake of it, but followed with discretion dependent on the harm companies might pose to consumers, said the information commissioner at the DMA's Data protection conference, held today in central London.

Graham, who will remain in his current role until 2016, said the regulatory function will change in the coming years. “We have to keep asking ourselves: 'are we doing things in the right way?'”

New regulations will come from Brussels over the course of this year and next, while the government will introduce new powers to allow the information commissioner to prosecute rogue marketers with a reduced threshold from April 6.

On regulation, he set out his philosophy. “The information commissioner is not just a traffic warden. We are in the enabling business, not denial business. We are denying cowboys getting in the way of what we are trying to do.”

“If we do this properly, the citizen and consumer gains,” he said.

Of the new regulations expected from Brussels, he said, “If you are following good practice now, you do not need to be unduly concerned. The commission and parliament knows what it thinks. The regulation is largely about process, but we shall see. Once the music stops we will issue revised guidance.”

He said there had been, “Great work in going after bad boys. For example how we identified a warehouse of banks of mobile phones sending texts to random number after random number,” he said.

“I get pitying looks from colleagues in other member states. 'You are so pragmatic', they say. I am proud to pin my faith on a pragmatic approach, and that is what regulators should do. I am not interested in EU regulation that will turn me into a traffic warden,” he said.

If a breach has taken place, should the information commissioner fine? “You have to give me the discretion to determine the real harm,” he said, with some suggesting that fines should be imposed in all cases, even if it is for a single Euro.

“With all the effort, to fine 1 Euro is stupid. Let me reserve the big stick in the cupboard for those that need a good spanking,” he said.

“We need to concentrate on where there is the greatest harm. It's a good principle of management. Never confuse a memo with reality. If the regulation is unrealistic then enforcement won’t happen,” he said.

The information commissioner has been confirmed for the DMA’s Data protection conference 2016

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