Telecoms firms guilty of data breach


Leading telecommunications companies Vodafone, 02, Eircom and UPC have been prosecuted for spamming customers with unsolicited text messages and phone calls in breach of the Data Protection Acts.

The four companies today pleaded guilty to a list of charges related to making unsolicited sales calls and sending text messages for direct marketing purposes without the consent of the recipients.

The cases were brought before the Dublin District Court by the Data Protection Commissioner on foot of complaints by consumers who were subjected to repeated cold calls and unwanted messages after they had expressly asked not to be contacted for marketing purposes.

The worst offender was UPC which was fined €7,100 for 18 separate breaches of the Act relating to four complaints to the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

In one case, the court heard how the company attempted to call a customer 225 times over a 20-day period between May and June of 2009.

The subscriber, who operated a property letting company, had cancelled her company’s 56 accounts with UPC the previous month but was repeatedly contacted by sales agents asking her to upgrade her accounts even though they had already been closed.

Even when she contacted UPC, asking for her number to be removed from the company’s direct marketing list, the company emailed her that this could only be done if she supplied a landline number instead.

Assistant commissioner at the Data Protection Commissioner's office, Tony Delaney, said the customer had contacted the commission in a state of desperation, saying she felt like she was being harassed.

“Clearly, this is one of the most serious cases, in terms of phone calls, that has ever come before Data Protection Commission,” Mr Delaney told the court.

UPC was also convicted of making unsolicited sales calls to three other subscribers after they had expressly requested not to be contacted for marketing purposes.

Vodafone was fined €3,850 for five infringements of the Data Protection Act following complaints by four consumers who had received unsolicited marketing texts.

Despite admitting similar breaches of the act, no convictions were recorded against O2 and Eircom after they agreed to make two separate €2,000 donations to designated charities.