In June, I lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner's Office about BT refusing to stop the delivering the phone book to people not willing to give the company their phone number. Yesterday, I got the following letter from the Information Commissioner's Office:
Your complaint to us
As I understand you are concerned at the amount of personal data BT require in order to process your request not to receive a paper copy of the telephone directory.
You have explained that you are not a customer of BT, but on 13 January 2011 you emailed them to request that the directory is no longer delivered to your address.
On 1 June BT responded to you and said they did not have sufficient information to action your request; they asked you also to provide your phone number.
In this case the matters you have raised that are relevant to the Data Protection Act relate to the third data protection principle. This says: "Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed".
BT's response to us
BT have explained that when an individual requests to opt out of receiving the directory they request, amongst other details, the person's phone number. The reason for this is twofold; so that BT can create a record against that number and also so they can verify the individual's identity and reduce the risk that someone else is claiming to be that individual. The more information that can be cross-referenced the more confidence BT can have in that person's identity.
On the basis of all the information available we have decided it is unlikely that BT have complied with the requirements of the Data Protection Act in this case.
This is because, in our view the amount of personal data BT require from you in this instance is excessive, given the purposes for which the data is being processed.
All you are requesting is that BT suppress your address from the list of properties to which the unsolicited directory is delivered. It is difficult to see what further information, other than your name and address, BT might reasonably require to comply with such a request. You are not a BT customer, therefore BT presumably do not have a customer number against which to create a record that you no longer wish to receive the directory.
Furthermore, the likelihood and potential consequences of someone pretending to be you for the purpose of cancelling your receipt of the directory do not appear to justify BT collecting personal data to this extent. In this light we have recommended to BT that they review their response to your request.
However, the Information Commissioner has decided that further regulatory action against BT is not required at this time.
Most organisations want to put things right when they have gone wrong and learn from complaints that are raised with them. We have therefore asked BT to consider the information we have provided during the course of this assessment and take steps to prevent the situation from happening again.
We will keep a record of your complaint and take this assessment into account if we receive further complaints about BT. The information we gather from complaints may form the basis for action in the future.
The last paragraph is the most significant. Should you find that BT refuses to stop delivering unsolicited phone books to your address you should contact the Information Commissioner's Office and refer to this case (reference number available on request).