There are reports today of people receiving automatic dialling machine telephone calls relating to Ireland’s abortion legislation.
Any group using these sorts of ‘robo-dialling’ systems, which are common in the USA, should first make themselves aware of the restrictions in this jurisdiction on this sort of communication.
Directive 97/66/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 December 1997 concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the telecommunications sector (or The Directive, to its friends) was brought into law here over 10 years ago through the Data Protection Acts.
Article 12 of the Directive says
“1. The use of automated calling systems without human intervention (automatic calling machine) or facsimile machines (fax) for the purposes of direct marketing may only be allowed in respect of subscribers who have given their prior consent.”
The question of whether an autodialler political campaign falls within the remit of this ban was considered by the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland in 2002.
In his guidance note on the topic, the Commissioner ruled that he
“considered that the political canvassing messages came within the terms of the Regulations and as such were a form of direct marketing.”
The Data Protection (Amendment) Act 2003 refined that position by defining direct marketing as including “direct mailing other than direct mailing carried out in the course of political activities by a political party or its members, or a body established by or under statute or a candidate for election to, or a holder of, elective political office.”
It is also a requirement of the Irish Regulations that
“A person who uses, or causes to be used, any publicly available telecommunications services to make an unsolicited call for the purpose of direct marketing shall include in such a call the name of the person and, in addition, in the case of a call by means of an automatic calling machine or a facsimile machine or if a person who receives the call so requests, either the address of the first-mentioned person or a telephone number for a line on which that person may be contacted.”
As the calls reported on today seem not to fall within the political communication exception- not coming from any recognised political party, candidate or candidate for election- each call complained of could potentially attract an individual criminal conviction and fine. Only calls which prompt a complaint can attract any conviction.
Complaints to the Data Protection Commissioner can be made on-line for free. A complaint should include the date and time of the call and, if it wasn’t blocked, the number the call was made from.