DMA Data Protection Conference 2009 – a short report

Jeremy Phillips

Yesterday saw the great and the good of the direct marketing and data protection world assembled at the RSA in London for the DMA Annual Data Protection Conference. Headlining the list of keynote speakers were the outgoing Information Commissioner Richard Thomas (right) and Datonomy’s resident blog contributor, Marc Dautlich.

The event, chaired by Fedelma Good, Head of Marketing Privacy and Suppression Management at Barclays Bank, began with Richard Thomas on his reflections from the Information Commission – past, present and future to cover his time and the progress made during his seven years as the data protection overlord. In particular, Thomas highlighted the shift in public attitude towards data protection, from a feeling of suspicion bordering on terror to the acceptance and near universal support for a regime aimed at protecting individuals. Although Thomas acknowledged that much of this change of perspective was fuelled by the role of the media in pursuing the seemingly frequent high-profile losses of data, he nonetheless pointed towards the role played by the ICO to tighten and regulate the UK’s data protection regime. 

Among the plans for the future and development of the ICO discussed by Thomas were powers to impose financial penalties for deliberate or reckless breaches of the Data Protection Act, to give the ICO some much needed bite in its armoury. There are also proposals to increase the notification fees paid by the largest organisations to boost the ICO’s annual budget by £4 million to a total of £16 million. Thomas also floated the idea of recording data as an asset on a company’s balance sheet, although acknowledged that this may be some way off in view of the number of hurdles which need to be overcome before this option can be taken seriously. How many of these proposals Thomas will see come to fruition before his retirement in June remain to be seen but it is likely that Christopher Graham, Thomas’ successor as Information Commission, will carry on his agenda. To finish on a controversial note, Thomas unilaterally confirmed that he would not bow to pressure from his European counterparts and did not intend to introduce an opt-in option for direct marketing, something which did not go unnoticed by the members of the press in the audience who duly broke the news shortly after Thomas’ talk.

Marc Dautlich (right) was next up with a discussion on the frequently asked data protection/direct marketing questions – a legal guide. Bearing the brunt of Marc’s wrath was the innocent privacy policy which so often hides unnoticed at the bottom of a webpage. Armed with a recent study by YouGov illustrating that, among other things, the vast majority of the public did not understand a standard privacy policy and believed it was deliberately drafted vaguely to benefit the data controller, Marc proposed that perhaps it was time to reduce and clarify the information provided to an individual on the use of his/her personal data.  Marc also gave practical tips on the issue of opt-in and opt-out consent to comply with the regulatory guidelines. A copy of Marc’s presentation can be read here.

The self-styled “Angel of the Apocalypse” was next in the form of German lawyer Michael Siegart talking about Germany: new ways to permission marketing in the EU. Despite his warnings on bad German humour, Siegart produced a hugely entertaining and engaging summary of the additional complications and quirks of German law in its approach to data protection. Even referring to his nation as “a country of data catastrophe”, Siegart noted that direct marketing was currently a black word in Germany after a number of high-profile and embarrassing data breaches and there was now a concerted effort to limit the amount of data held to a minimum.

The remainder of the day was filled by presentations from Neil Munroe, Paula Davis, Zina Manda and Scott Logie on a number of topics ranging from internal data protection strategy to a comparison of commercial objectives from client and supplier perspectives. A special mention must go to Michael Spadea’s excellent interactive session on marketing financial services in the data protection landscape and not least for his chocolate-for-answers bribery to encourage audience participation. 

Source: note by Stephen Hunter (Olswang)

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