Tetrus Telecoms – Christopher Niebel and Gary McNeish

Breach details

What Serious breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).
How much Sent millions of unsolicited text messages.
When From December 2009 onwards.
Why Concealed identity and/or failed to provide a valid ‘cease’ address. Sent automated marketing without the necessary opt-in permissions.

BW Comments

Millions of spam SMS messages sent from over 16,000 SIM cards. There can’t have been anyone in the UK that didn’t receive one of Tetrus’s offers to reclaim PPI or pursue a road accident claim.

Regulatory action

Regulator ICO
Action Christopher Niebel: Monetary penalty of £ 300,000
Gary McNeish: Monetary penalty of £ 140,000
When 28 November 2012

Why the regulator acted

Breach of act Breach of regulations 22(2) and 23 of PECR, characterised by the ICO as “continued, repetitive and deliberate contraventions of the law.”
Known or should have known The Commissioner found evidence that the participants deliberately hid their identity and made no attempt to ensure they had the recipient’s opt-in to receive automated messages.
Likely to cause damage or distress Although most people would agree that the receipt of these unwanted text messages is annoying, the Commissioner argues that they the messages caused damage and distress.

BW Observations

That the individuals concerned deliberately flouted the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations is not in doubt. The Commissioner’s arguments in respect of the damage and distress caused are informative.

  1. That although the distress / annoyance caused by each individual SMS sents is small, because of the number of messages sent by Niebel and McNiesh, the cumulative distress suffered by “huge numbers of individuals” equates to substantial distress. It will be interesting to see if this is argued in Mr Nielbel’s appeal to the Information Tribunal (EA/2012/0260).
  2. Some recipients were overseas at the time messages were sent, so had to pay their mobile telecommunications provider additional fees for receiving these SMSs when overseas, resulting in real monetary damage.
  3. People receiving emails about an accident claim may worry about other family members, and such messages also had the potential to be disturbing to people who had been involved in accidents.
  4. The wording used had the potential to cause distress by raising false expectations, e.g. “we know how much you are owed” and “You are almost certainly entitled to £2,300.”