On 28 November 2012, the Information Commissioner's Office ("ICO"), following an 18 month investigation of the activities of Tetrus Telecoms, has issued its first fine under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations since these powers were approved in January 2012. The ICO's investigation discovered that Tetrus Telecom, jointly owned by Christopher Niebel and Gary McNeish, were sending large volumes of unsolicited text messages from offices in Stockport and Birmingham without the consent of the recipient or identifying the sender. Any replies received to these messages were then used to generate leads that were sold to other companies at a considerable profit.
Tetrus Telecom was set up in 2009 and is believed to have been operational since then. The evidence collected by the ICO showed that Tetrus Telecom was using unregistered pay-as-you-go Sim cards to send out as many as 840,000 illegal text messages a day generating an income of £7,000-£8,000 a day. The fine imposed by the ICO was split, with Christopher Niebel being required to pay £300,000 and Gary McNeish, who appeared to have taken less out of the business, £140,000.
The ICO is able to levy fines of up to £500,000 for serious breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998 as well as PECR. This is not only its first fine under PECR, but represents the highest fine the ICO has issued so far using its civil penalty powers. It is clearly pitched as a warning to others. SPAM texts generate a considerable number of complaints to the ICO and the ICO has set up a specific task force which is focused on this area of non-compliance.