Late yesterday the UK ICO issued a new press release and guidance on its plans to enforce the new UK “cookie regulation,” which was enacted by the UK Government to implement the EU’s e-Privacy Directive.  

The new release, which follows previous ICO guidance outlining how businesses might comply with the new rules (see my previous post), declared that the ICO intends to pursue enforcement with a “light touch” and promised that the ICO will not take enforcement actions against businesses using cookies in the UK without user consent for a ‘lead-in’ period of one year.  The new rules, which come into effect today, require websites to obtain consent from users when placing cookies on the user’s devices. The UK Government has interpreted this requirement to entail specific opt-in consent from users, but it has also specified that consent can be obtained after the cookie has been placed on the user’s device, i.e., retroactively.  Businesses will now have a grace period for compliance, but the ICO has warned that those who “do nothing” for this period will find that factor being taken into account when the ICO begins enforcement actions next year.

Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, said of the new policy that “I have said all along the new EU rules on cookies are challenging….Browser settings giving individuals more control over cookies will be an important contributor to a solution. But the necessary changes to the technology aren’t there yet.”  The ICO’s new release was accompanied yesterday evening by an open letter from Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, in which the Department for Culture, Media and Sport endorsed the ICO’s new approach and explained its take on the new regulation.

Another effect of the new regulation is the granting of new powers to the ICO is that the Commissioner will now have increased powers to impose financial penalties on telecoms and Internet service providers who suffer data breaches without telling the ICO; audit service providers without their consent (although consent will still be sought before this power is used according to new guidance); and impose civil penalties, especially on businesses sending unwanted marketing calls and text message spam.