Tag Archives: Data Protection Enforcement

Data Protection/Privacy Enforcement: March 2018

Probably the most high profile piece of enforcement action taken by the Information Commissioner’s Office in March was its application for, and execution of, a warrant to enter and inspect the offices occupied by Cambridge Analytica as part of the Commissioner’s wider investigation into the use of personal data in politics.  It would seem that data protection warrants get more people excited about data protection than would ordinarily be the case. The Cambridge Analytica warrant was not the only warrant that the Commissioner obtained and executed in March; the Commissioner’s website also published details of a warrant that it executed in Clydebank (Glasgow).  This warrant was directed towards alleged breaches of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 which deal with, insofar as this blog is concerned with, the rules concerning direct marketing to individuals by electronic means.

Key Points

  • Care needs to be taken when looking at sharing personal data on a controller-to-controller basis with other companies, including separate companies within the same group of companies. Data controllers need to ensure that they identify what their lawful basis for processing is, provide adequate fair processing information to data subjects in relation to such sharing of personal data and ensure that any changes to their policy in respect of data-sharing do not result in that sharing being for a purpose that is incompatible with those stated at the time of collection.
  • If you, as an individual (whether or not you are yourself a data controller), unlawfully disclose personal data to third parties then you could be liable for prosecution.

Enforcement Action published by the ICO during March 2018

WhatsApp Inc.
An undertaking was given by WhatsApp Inc. In it, WhatsApp undertook not to do a number of things; including not transferring personal data concerning users within the EU to another Facebook-controlled company on a controller-to-controller basis until the General Data Protection Regulation becomes applicable on 25th May 2018.  The undertaking was given after WhatsApp introduced new terms and conditions and a new privacy policy which affected how it processed personal data held by it; in particular, how it would now share personal data with other Facebook-controlled companies.

Prosecutions
A former housing worker was convicted at St. Albans Crown Court after he shared a confidential report identifying a potential vulnerable victim. The defendant was convicted of three charges of unlawfully obtaining disclosing personal data contrary to section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.  He was fined £200 for each charge and was ordered to pay £3,500 in costs.

Alistair Sloan

Should you require advice or assistance about UK Data Protection and Privacy law then contact Alistair Sloan on 0141 229 0880.  You can also contact him by E-mail.  You can also follow our dedicated Twitter account covering all Information Law matters@UKInfoLaw

The Information Commissioner’s Powers of Entry and Inspection

Yesterday I wrote a blog post looking at data subject’s rights and lessons for controllers arising out of the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook privacy matter.  In that blog post I mentioned briefly about the Information Commissioner’s powers of entry and search after the Commissioner announced that she was seeking a warrant to enter and search Cambridge Analytica’s premises.   In this blog post I will look at the Commissioner’s powers of entry and search in a bit more detail.

As noted yesterday, the Commissioner’s powers of entry and search are contained in Schedule 9 to the Data Protection Act 1998.  Schedule 9 sets out the circumstances in which a judge can grant a warrant to the Information Commissioner.  The judge considering the application must be satisfied, based on statements made on oath, that the there are reasonable grounds of suspecting that (a) a data controller has contravened or is contravening any of the data protection principles, or (b) that an offence under the Data Protection Act has been or is being committed, and that evidence of the contravention or of the commission of the offence is to be found on any premises specified in the information supplied by the Commissioner.

The Commissioner is generally required, by the terms of Schedule 9 to the Data Protection Act 1998, to jump through some hoops before the judge considering the warrant application can grant the warrant to the Commissioner.  Paragraph 2 of Schedule 9 requires that the judge considering the application be satisfied of a number of other things:

  1. that the Commissioner has given seven days’ notice in writing to the occupier of the premises in question demanding access to the premises, and
  2. that either (i) access was demanded at a reasonable hour and was unreasonably refused, or (ii) although entry to the premises was granted, the occupier unreasonably refused to comply with a request by the Commissioner or any of the Commissioner’s officers or staff to permit the Commissioner or the officer or member of staff to do any of the things she would be entitled to do if she had a warrant (see below); and
  3. that the occupier, has, after the refusal, been notified by the Commissioner of the application for the warrant and has had an opportunity of being heard by the judge on the question whether or not it should be issued.

Where the judge is satisfied that the case is one of urgency or that compliance with those provisions would defeat the object of the entry, the judge does not need to be satisfied of the three things listed above.  In this case, given that the Commissioner announced her intention to apply for a warrant on national television, it is likely that a judge will require to be satisfied of the three conditions listed above.

Who considers an application by the Commissioner for a warrant depends upon the jurisdiction in which the warrant is being applied for.  In England and Wales a District Judge (Magistrates’ Court) or a Circuit Judge has the power to grant the warrant; in Scotland it is the Sheriff and in Northern Ireland it is a Country Court Judge.

A warrant granted under Schedule 9 of the Data Protection Act 1998 gives the Commissioner the power to do a number of things; these things can be found in paragraph 1(3) of the Schedule and are:

  1. to enter the premises
  2. to search the premises
  3. to inspect, examine, operate and test any equipment found on the premises which is used or intended to be used for the processing of personal data;
  4. to inspect and seize any relevant documents or other material found on the premises;
  5. to require any person on the premises to provide an explanation of any document or other material found on the premises;
  6. to require any person on the premises to provide such other information as may reasonably be required for the purpose of determining whether the data controller has contravened, or is contravening, the data protection principles.

The warrant must be executed at a reasonable hour, unless it appears to the person executing it that there are grounds for suspecting that the object of the warrant would be defeated if it were so executed, and within 7 days of the date of issue.  It allows the Commissioner, her officers and staff to use reasonable force to execute the warrant.

There are lots of other, really boring and technical requirements, which I won’t go into; the last thing I will mention is the terms of paragraph 12 of Schedule 9 which makes it an offence to: (i) intentionally obstruct a person in the execution of a warrant issued under Schedule 9; (ii) fail, without reasonable excuse, to give any person executing such a warrant such assistance as he may reasonably require for the execution of the warrant; (iii) makes a statement in response to a requirement  to provide information (see 5 and 6 in the list of powers the warrant gives the Commissioner) which that person knows to be false in a material respect; and (iv) recklessly makes a statement in response to such a requirement which is false in a material respect.

The Commissioner does get warrants from time to time; for example, earlier this month the ICO executed search warrants in relation to two properties in Greater Manchester as part of an investigation into companies suspected of sending text messages in contravention of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR).  The provisions of Schedule 9 to the Data Protection Act 1998 apply to PECR by virtue of Regulation 31 of PECR.

Alistair Sloan

If you are a data controller or an individual who is looking for advice and assistance with any aspect of data protection or privacy law, then you can contact Alistair Sloan on 0345 450 0123 or 0141 229 0880.  Alternatively, you can send him an E-mail.

Data Protection, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

We know that the Information Commissioner is investigating the circumstances surrounding the obtaining of personal data of a considerable number of individuals by Cambridge Analytica.  Cambridge Analytica is a data analytics company that is in the midst of what can only be described as a data protection and privacy scandal.

There are a number of significant allegations being made against Cambridge Analytica about how it obtains and processes personal data.  The Information Commissioner has also revealed that Cambridge Analytica is not cooperating with her investigation to the extent that she is going to apply for a warrant to enter and search their premises.  This means that, in all probability, the Commissioner has already sought access and it has been refused.  Schedule 9 to Data Protection Act 1998 sets out the Information Commissioner’s powers of entry and inspection; it permits the Commissioner to obtain a warrant from the court where the court is satisfied that a data controller has contravened or is contravening any of the data protection principles, or that an offence under this Act has been or is being committed, and that evidence of the contravention or of the commission of the offence is to be found on any premises specified.

This story is moving at quite a pace and is constantly changing with new revelations coming to light; it’s also the subject of an investigation by the Information Commissioner and there is the possibility that the company might face prosecution for offences under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 depending upon what the Commissioner finds during the course of her investigation.  I am therefore going to try and keep this blog post broad and theoretical rather than trample upon the toes of a live regulatory investigation.

A data controller has a duty to comply with the data protection principles in relation to all of the personal data for which they are the controller, subject to certain specified exemptions set out in statute.  The First data protection principle requires that personal data be “processed fairly and lawfully”; this requires the data controller to meet one or more of the conditions set out in Schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act 1998 (and, in respect of sensitive personal data, a condition in Schedule 3 also requires to be satisfied).

What can individuals do if they are concerned about whether Cambridge Analytica has any personal data concerning them and what they’ve been doing with it?  Data Subjects have a number of rights under the Data Protection Act 1998 and the cornerstone of those rights is the right of subject access.  This is currently given effect to in section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 and is not simply about getting copies of the personal data being processed by a data controller:  it consists of a whole suite or rights, of which getting a copy of the personal data is only one aspect.  Under the current law, data controllers are entitled to charge a fee up to a prescribed maximum for dealing with such requests; a request of this nature would attract a fee of £10, but many individuals might well think that this is a price worth paying to know if and how they have been affected by this issue.  Data Controllers have up to 40 days in which to comply with a subject access request.  Some key changes to the right of subject access will come into effect on 25th May 2018, but for now the law contained within the Data Protection Act 1998 is still applicable.

Once you have the response to your subject access request your rights do not end there; once you’ve established what a data controller is processing about you, what they’re doing with it and where they got it from there are a number of other steps that you might be able to take, such as requiring them to cease processing your personal data, complaining to the Information Commissioner or making a claim for compensation.

For data controllers, what is currently unfolding should be seen as an important lesson.  Data can be a useful tool to a business; whether it is being used for targeted marketing campaigns or to work out what consumers want from products and services in your market.  However, there are laws governing data protection and privacy and at the heart of those laws are the principles of fairness and transparency.  Controllers need to be careful as to how they obtain personal data, where they obtain it from, what they do with it and be certain that they have a lawful basis for processing that personal data in the ways that they want to do so; that may be because you have the consent of the data subject, because you have a legitimate interest in the processing or some other lawful ground for processing.  Don’t forget the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 when conducting direct marketing by electronic means.

Simply because a person has made their personal data available, for example through social media, does not mean that is free to be used by whomever and for whatever they want.  The principles of the Data Protection Act 1998 still apply and the reputational damage that can be suffered may well vastly outweigh any regulatory action taken by the Information Commissioner or by data subjects themselves.

Alistair Sloan

If you are a data controller or an individual who is looking for advice and assistance with any aspect of data protection or privacy law, then you can contact Alistair Sloan on 0345 450 0123 or 0141 229 08800.  Alternatively, you can send him an E-mail.

Data Protection and Privacy Enforcement: February 2018

February is a short month, and did not see the same level of publicity by the Information Commissioner’s Office in respect of enforcement action taken to enforce privacy and data protection laws as was seen in January.

Key points 

  • Failing to comply with an Enforcement Notice is a criminal offence (see section 47 of the Data Protection Act 1998); there is a right of appeal to the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) against the terms of an Enforcement Notice and so if you do not agree with the terms of the notice you should seek legal advice about the possibility of making such an appeal.
  • Employees should be careful what they do with personal data; in most cases the enforcement liability will lie with the employer (although, your employer might take disciplinary action against you for failing to comply with company policies and procedures).  However, there are circumstances when employees can be held personally, and indeed criminally, liable for breaches of the Data Protection act 1998.
  • The right of subject access is a fundamental right of data subjects and data controllers must ensure that they comply with their obligations in respect of a subject access request made by a data subject.  The right of subject access remains a key feature of the new European data protection framework and the GDPR strengthens the right of subject access for data subjects.

Enforcement action published by the ICO during February 2018

Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust
The ICO has conducted a follow-up assessment [pdf] with Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust finding that the Trust had complied with the terms of the undertaking which it had previously given [pdf] following a consensual audit [pdf] by the Commissioner’s staff.

Gain Credit LLC
Gain Credit LLC was served with an Enforcement Notice [pdf] by the Information Commissioner for failing to comply with a subject access request made to it.  This came to light after the data subject in question made a request to the Information Commissioner that she carry out an assessment pursuant to section 42 of the Data Protection Act 1998 into whether it was likely or unlikely that the processing by Gain Credit LLC was in accordance with the provisions of the Act.

Direct Choice Home Improvements Limited
In March 2016 Direct Choice Home Improvements Limited was served with a Monetary Penalty Notice in the amount of £50,000 [pdf] and also an Enforcement Notice [pdf] for breaching Regulation 21 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC) Directive Regulations 2003 (PECR).  The company continued to breach Regulation 21 of PECR and the Commissioner prosecuted it for breaching the Enforcement Notice.  The company was not represented at Swansea Magistrates’ Court and was convicted in absence.  The company was fined £400 as well as being ordered to pay £364.08 in prosecution costs and a victim surcharge of £40. (Don’t forget that PECR remains part of the privacy and data protection law landscape when the GDPR becomes applicable in May.)

Other Prosecutions
A former employee of Nationwide Accident Repair Services Limited was prosecuted by the Information Commissioner for unlawfully obtaining personal data contrary to section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.  The defendant had sold the personal data of his employers’ customers to a third party who then made use of the personal data to contact some of those customers concerning their accident.  The defendant was convicted and fined £500 as well as being ordered to pay costs of £364 and a victim surcharge of £50.  An offence of unlawfully disclosing personal data was admitted to and taken into consideration by the Court.

A former local authority education worker was prosecuted after she unlawfully disclosed personal data contrary to section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.  The defendant had taken a screenshot of a council spreadsheet which concerned the eligibility of named children to free school meals and then sent it onto an estranged parent of one of the children.  She pled guilty to three offences and was fined £850 by Westminster Magistrates’ Court as well as being ordered to pay £713 in costs.

Alistair Sloan

If you require advice or assistance in respect of a data protection or privacy law matter, or any other Information Law matter; then contact Alistair Sloan on 0345 450 0123, or send him and E-mail.

Data Protection/Privacy Enforcement: January 2018

It has been a busy start to the year for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).  The start of 2018 also saw the highest ever sentences imposed on those in breach of Data Protection and Privacy laws in the United Kingdom.  It is time to have a closer look at the Data Protection and Privacy Enforcement action published by the ICO during January 2018 as part of our regular monthly review.  You can read our review of the privacy and data protection enfrocement from December 2017 here.

Key Points

  • If you have access to personal data as part of your employment, ensure that you only access it where there is a genuine professional need for you to do so; even if the reason you are looking for information could be considered harmless.
  • As far as the Information Commissioner is concerned, ‘ignorance is not bliss’; Data Controllers must have adequate and up to date procedures, technology and policies in place to ensure that they are not in breach of any data protection laws or regulations.
  • Organisations can’t generally send advertising or marketing emails unless the recipient has informed the sender that they consent to such emails being sent by, or at the instigation of, that sender.  Any consent must be freely given, explicit and informed but also involve a positive indication signifying the individual’s agreement. In order for consent to be informed by an individual, the individual must know exactly what it is they are consenting to (for more information see Alistair Sloan’s blog post PECR:  The forgotten relative).
  • Failure to notify the Information Commissioner of any personal data breach in accordance with the Notification Regulations will not be tolerated.  If it has come to your attention that there has been a breach, you must come clean and put your hands up. A much wider requirement to notify the ICO of personal data breaches becomes applicable with the GDPR later this year, for more on that see our blog post on Personal Data Breaches under the GDPR.
  • It goes without saying, meticulous attention to detail must be taken when you are sending any correspondence containing personal data, you must ensure that it is sent to the correct person.

Enforcement action published by the ICO in January 2018

The Carphone Warehouse Ltd
The Carphone Warehouse Ltd was served with a Monetary Penalty Notice in the sum of £400,000 after serious failures and inadequate software placed customer and employee data at risk.

Newday Limited
Newday Ltd were served a Monetary Penalty Notice in the sum of £230,000 after approximately 48,096,988 emails were sent to individuals who had not consented to receive marketing, contrary to regulation 22 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.  The Commissioner decided that the consent relied on by Newday Limited was not sufficiently informed and therefore it did not amount to valid consent.

TFLI Ltd
TFLI Ltd received a Monetary Penalty Notice of £80,000.  This penalty was also in relation to contravention of regulation 22 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.  TFLI Limited sent approximately 1,218,436 unsolicited marketing texts promoting a loan website.

Barrington Claims Ltd
Barrington Claims Ltd were issued a Monetary Penalty Notice in the sum £250,000 after they failed to ensure automated marketing calls were made only to individuals who had consented to receive them. The Commissioner decided to issue a Monetary Penalty under section 55A of the Data Protection Act 1998, in relation to contravention of regulations 19 and 24 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.  The company were unable to provide evidence that it had the consent of individuals to whom it had instigated the calls.

Goody Market UK Ltd
Goody Market UK Ltd were issued a Monetary Penalty Notice in the sum of £40,000 after they failed to ensure that text messages containing marketing material were only sent to individuals who had consented to receive them.  They were also served an Enforcement Notice. The texts were sent on the basis of data sourced from a third party, and purchased on behalf of Goody Market UK Ltd by a data broker.  Goody Market UK Ltd were unable to provide the Commissioner with any evidence that the recipients consented to the marketing messages, having relied on verbal assurance from the data broker.  The Commissioner found that Goody Market UK Ltd had contravened Regulation 22 of PECR.

West Midlands Police
West Midlands Police have signed an Undertaking to comply with the Data Protection Act after the Information Commissioner was informed that a data breach had occurred in relation a Criminal Behaviour Order.  The order was imposed on two individuals, but in a leaflet distributed to publicise the order, the names of the witnesses were revealed.

Miss-sold Products UK Ltd
Miss-sold Products UK Ltd were served a Monetary Penalty Notice in the sum of £350,000 after they failed to ensure that marketing calls were only made to individuals who had consented to receive marketing. The penalty was in relation to contravention of Regulation 19 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.

SSE Energy Supply Ltd
SSE Energy Supply Ltd was issued a Monetary Penalty Notice of £1,000 after they sent an email to an individual in error.   The penalty was issued because of contravention of Regulation 5A of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.  This Regulation requires that a provider of a public electronic communications service must notify the Information Commissioner of a personal data breach without undue delay.  SSE Energy Supply Ltd sent an email to the wrong email address, disclosing the name of a customer and their account number.  After they became aware of the breach, SSE Energy Supply Limited did not follow its policies and procedures that were in place and as a consequence there was a delay in reporting the personal data breach to the Information Commissioner.

Prosecutions
There were a number of successful prosecutions reported by the ICO during January 2018:

  1. An investigation by the ICO, which began in 2013, resulted in record fines for Woodgate and Clark Ltd, the company director and private investigators who were involved in the illegal trade of personal information.  A claim had been made on an insurance policy in relation to a fire at business premises which the claimant owned.  Private investigators unlawfully obtained confidential financial information and disclosed it to Woodgate and Clark Ltd, which then disclosed it to an insurer client.  The defendants were all prosecuted under s55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.  Woodgate and Clark Ltd were fined £50,000 in addition to being ordered to pay £20,000 in costs.  The company director was fined £75,000 and was ordered to pay £20,000 in costs; while both private investigators were fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £2,500 in costs.
  2. A director of an accident claims company invented a car crash so that he could trace and get in touch with the owner of a private number plate he wanted to buy.  He was prosecuted at Bristol Magistrates’ Court for a breach of S55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 for the offence of unlawfully obtaining personal data.  He was convicted and received a fine of £335.00.  The defendant was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £364.08 and a victim surcharge of £33.00.
  3. An individual was charged with two offences of unlawfully disclosing personal data.  The defendant had come into possession of a USB stick and published sensitive police information from it on Twitter.  He was sentenced to a 12 month conditional discharg,e in part because he had been placed on a stringent bail conditions including wearing an electronic tag before the hearing.  He had to pay £150 in cost and £15 victim charge.

Vicki Macleod Folan

If you require advice and assistance in connection with any of the issues above, or any other Information Law matter, please do contact Alistair Sloan on 0345 450 0123 or by completing the form on the contact page of this blog.  Alternatively, you can send him an E-mail directly.

Data Protection/Privacy Enforcement: December 2017

Our monthly look at the enforcement action taking by the Information Commissioner in respect of Privacy and Data Protection matters continues with a review of the enforcement action published by the ICO in December 2017.  You can view last month’s review of the November 2017 enforcement action here.  December 2017 was not an overly busy month for the ICO; they published just one Enforcement Notice.

Key Points

  • Ensure that you have in place adequate procedures to ensure that you handle Subject Access requests within the time allowed by the law.

Enforcement Action

Secretary of State for Justice
The Secretary of State for Justice was served with an Enforcement Notice [pdf] requiring him to deal with his department’s backlog of delayed Subject Access Requests.  As at 10 November 2017 the Ministry of Justice had 793 Subject Access Requests which were over 40 days old; some of this backlog was made up of Subject Access Requests made in 2014.  This was a reduction from the 919 requests more than 40 days old as at 28 July 2017 (which included requests going back to 2012).  The Data Protection Act 1998 requires that Subject Access Requests be responded to within 40 calendar days (this will be reduced to 30 calendar days under the GDPR – you can find out more about this change, and others to the right of subject access requests, in my blog post on Subject Access Requests under the GDPR).

Alistair Sloan

If you require advice or assistance with Subject Access Requests, or any other Information Law matter then contact Alistair Sloan on 0345 450 0123 or send him and E-mail

Data Protection/Privacy Enforcement: November 2017

A bit later than normal, it is time for our monthly review of the enforcement action taken by the Information Commissioner in respect of Privacy and Data Protection matters during the month of November 2017.  This follows on from our reviews covering September 2017 and October 2017.

Key Points

  • Ensure that when you are collecting personal data that you are clear and open about what it will be used for.  If it is to be supplied to third parties for direct marketing purposes state as accurately as possible who those third parties are –  stating that it will be shared with “carefully selected partners” is not going to be sufficient.
  • When undertaking direct marketing by electronic means, such as by E-mail or text message, ensure that you have in place the necessary consent (and remember the definition of consent in the Data Protection Directive) of the recipient before sending your marketing messages.
  • Once again, if you have access to personal data as part of your employment, ensure that you only access it where there is a legitimate business need for you to do so.  Do not send personal data to your own personal E-mail address without first explaining to your employer why you need to do it and getting their consent to do so.

Enforcement action published by the ICO in November 2017

Verso Group (UK) Limited

Verso Group (UK) Limited was served with a Monetary Penalty Notice [pdf] in the amount of £80,000.  Verso had been supplying personal data to third parties to enable those third parties to conduct direct marketing campaigns; the Commissioner considered that Verso had breached the First Data Protection Principle in doing so.  This was because the Commissioner did not consider that the terms and conditions and privacy policies of Verso and those other companies from which it obtained personal data were clear enough to make the processing by Verso fair and lawful.

Hamilton Digital Solutions Limited

Hamilton Digital Solutions Limited were served with an Enforcement Notice [pdf] and a Monetary Penalty Notice [pdf] in the amount of £45,000 after the company were responsible for the sending of in excess of 150,000 text messages for the purposes of direct marketing in breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.

Prosecutions

There were a number of successful prosecutions reported by the ICO during the month of November 2017:

Prosecution 1 –
A former employee of a community based counselling charity was prosecuted by the ICO at Preston Crown Court and pleaded guilty to three charges under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.  The Defendant had sent a number of E-mails to his personal E-mail address which contained sensitive personal data of clients, without his employers’ consent.  He was given a 2 year Conditional Discharge, ordered to pay costs of £1,845.25 and a £15 Victim Surcharge.

Prosecution 2 –
An employee of Dudley Group NHS Trust pleaded guilty two offences under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998:  one of unlawfully obtaining personal data and one of unlawfully disclosing personal data.  The defendant had accessed the medical records of a neighbour and former friend medical records and also disclosed information about a baby.  She was fined a total of £250 (£125 for each offence) and was ordered to pay prosecution costs amounting to £500 and a victim surcharge of £30.

Prosecution 3 –
A former nursing auxiliary at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport was fined £232 for offences under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.  She was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £150 and a victim surcharge of £30.  The Defendant had unlawfully accessed the records of a patient who was also her neighbour

Alistair Sloan

If you require advice and assistance in connection with any of the issues above, or any other Information Law matter, please do contact Alistair on 0345 450 0123 or by completing the form on the contact page of this blog.  Alternatively, you can send him an E-mail directly.

Nefarious Endeavours and Vicarious Liability for Data Breaches

Last week I highlighted the important decision handed down by Mr Justice Langstaff sitting in the English High Court in the case of Various Claimants v WM Morrisons Supermarket PLC  [2017] EWHC 3113 (QB).  In that blog post I stated that the judgment was lengthy and would take some time to properly read and digest and that I would cover the judgment in much more detail in due course.  It has indeed taken some time to read and digest, but I am now in a position to bring readers a much more in-depth consideration of the judgment.

The facts sitting behind the Morrisons decision are stark.  An employee of the Defendants, Andrew Skelton, ran a business on the side.  His business was connected to the slimming industry and involved him sending a perfectly legal drug, which was in the form of a white powder.  On 20th May 2013, Mr Skelton left a pre-paid package with Morrisons’ mail room which contained this white powder.  While the package was being handled by staff in the mail room it burst open and some of the contents spilled out.  This triggered a process within Morrisons that could have resulted in the mail room being closed; however, that was not necessary.

Mr Skelton was eventually disciplined by Morrisons in connection with this incident.  He had committed no criminal offences in connection with the incident:  the drug was perfectly legal and he had paid for the postage himself.  However, Morrisons decided that his conduct was not in keeping with their values and issued him with a verbal warning.  Mr. Skelton disagreed with this sanction and utilised the company’s internal appeals process to appeal the disciplinary decision; that appeal was unsuccessful.  Mr Skelton took exception to the way in which we was treated and began to embark upon a criminal enterprise which was designed to damage the Defendants.

Mr Skelton was employed as an IT internal auditor within Morrisons.  This meant that he was highly literate in IT and also meant that he had access to personal data.  It is not necessary to go into the facts in much more detail.  It is suffice to say that in the course of his employment with Morrsions, Mr. Skelton lawfully processed personal data which had been extracted from the company’s payroll software.

As part of his nefarious endeavour, Mr. Skelton made a personal copy of the personal data and proceeded to post it onto the internet in January 2014.  By this time, Mr. Skelton had left Morrisons (having resigned).  By March 2014, the fact that vast quantities of personal data from Morrisons’ payroll software had been posted onto the internet had not been discovered.  Mr. Skelton then, anonymously, sent a CD of the personal data to a number of local newspapers including a link to where the personal data had been posted.  One of the local newspapers altered Morrisons to the publication of the personal data and Morrisons took steps to have it removed and to investigate matters.

Ultimately, Mr. Skelton was arrested and charged with various offences under both the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Fraud Act 2006.  He was later convicted and sentenced to a period of imprisonment.  With that context now set out, it is time to turn to the civil claim brought by over 5,000 of the affected data subjects against Morrisons.

The claimants effectively argued two primary positions:  (1) that Morrisons was directly liable for the breach arising out of its own acts and omissions; and (2) alternatively, that Morrisons was vicariously liable in respect of Mr. Skelton’s actions.

In advancing the case for primary liability, Counsel for the Claimants argued that Morrisons was at all material times the data controller of the payroll data which Mr. Skelton had misused for his criminal enterprise.  This argument was repelled by Langstaff J.  Mr Justice Langstaff concluded that by taking it upon himself to decide that he was going to copy the personal data and place it on the internet, Mr. Skelton had put himself into the position of deciding what personal data would be processed and the purposes for which it would be processed.  Mr. Skelton was therefore the data controller, not Morrisons.  It was therefore Mr. Skelton’s actions that were in breach of the Data Protection Principles rather than the actions of Morrisons.

The rejection of the primary liability then brought Mr Justice Langstaff onto the question of secondary liability.  Could Morrisons be held as being vicariously liable for the actions of Mr. Skelton, and if so, were they vicariously liable for the actions of Mr. Skelton?  Mr Justice Langstaff decided that Morrisons could, and indeed were, vicariously liable for the actions of Mr. Skelton in publically disclosing the Claimants’ personal data on the internet.  In reaching this conclusion, Mr Justice Langstaff has seemingly reached two contradictory conclusions:  that Mr. Skelton was acting independently of Morrisons (thus making him a data controller in his own right) while at the same time holding that Mr. Skelton was acting in the course of his employment (thus opening the door for viacarious liability to attach to Morrisons).  These are not necessarily easy to reconcile and as a consequence it may well end up in the Court of Appeal (or indeed, possibly even the Supreme Court) in due course.  Morrisons have, as I previously noted, been granted permission to appeal the vicarious liability finding to the Court of Appeal by Langstaff J.

The Defendants essentially attacked the vicarious liability position using a three pronged approach.  First, they argued, that the statutory scheme of the Data Protection Act 1998 excluded the possibility of there being vicarious liability at common law.  Their second prong was very much based upon the premise of their first:  they argued that if the statute impliedly excluded vicarious liability, it would not be constitutionally possible for the courts to impute such liability into the scheme.  The third prong of their attack was based on Mr. Skelton acting as his own independent data controller.  If he was so acting, the Defendants argued; then he could not also be acting in the course of his employment such as to make Morrisons vicariously liable for his actions.

Langstaff J, in holding that Morrisons were vicariously liable, looked closely at the timeline of events which had occurred.  Mr Justice Langstaff took the view that “what happened was a seamless and continuous sequence of events” [para 183].  The actions of Mr. Skelton as an independent data controller were sufficiently linked to his employment at Morrisons so as to have the result of Morrisons being vicariously liable for his actions as an independent data controller.

It is clear from paragraph 196 of the judgment that Langstaff J was troubled by the conclusions that he had reached.  One point was singled out for particular attention as the one which “most troubled” him; that was that by finding Morrisons as being vicariously liable he had in effect assisted Mr. Skelton in his criminal endeavours.  The ultimate aim of Mr. Skelton’s nefarious activities was to cause harm to Morrisons; a finding of vicarious liability for the distress caused by the data subjects opens up the possibility that each and every single one of those affected will seek compensation from Morrisons.  Even if the payments to each data subject are low; if they end up having to be made to the approximately 10,000 employees who were affected the financial burden to Morrisons is not going to be insignificant.  That will represent a harm caused to Morrisons; perhaps harm that was not envisaged by Mr. Skelton when he started upon his nefarious activities; however, it is a harm that will be suffered by Morrisons arising.   The ultimate aim of Mr. Skelton’s nefarious activities was to cause harm to Morrisons; a finding of vicarious liability for the distress caused by the data subjects opens up the possibility that each and every single one of those affected will seek compensation from Morrisons.  Even if the payments to each data subject are low; if they end up having to be made to the approximately 10,000 employees who were affected the financial burdern to Morrisons is not going to be insignificant.

It remains to be seen whether Morrisons will appeal the judgement; they already have permission to take the matter to the Court of Appeal.  Of course, the judgment of Lansgatff J is not binding upon any court in Scotland; however, it will likely be considered as persuasive authority in both the Sheriff Court and the Court of Session.  Data Controllers in Scotland should pay as much attention to the case as those based in England and Wales.

Alistair Sloan

If you would like to discuss an issue related to data protection, or any other information law matter, then contact Alistair Sloan on 0345 450 0123.  Alternatively, you can send him an E-mail.

Vicarious Liability in Data Protection Law

This Morning Mr Justice Langstaff, sitting in the High Court of Justice, handed down a judgment in the case of Various Claimants –v- Wm Morrisons Supermarket PLC [2017] EWHC 3113 (QB).  In March 2014 the Defenders, Morrisons, revealed that its payroll data for the majority of its staff had been stolen.  The data which had been taken had been published online on a file sharing website earlier that year; it was discovered in March when copies of the data were sent anonymously to three newspapers together with a link to the online published version. The investigation that followed resulted in Andrew Skelton, formerly a senior Manager with the company, being convicted of fraud at Bradford Crown Court in 2015.  Mr Skelton was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment.

In total around 100,000 of the Defenders’ 120,000 employees were affected by the actions of Mr Skelton.  Of those, 5,518 employees raised proceedings in the High Court claiming compensation for a breach a statutory duty (under the Data Protection act 1998) and also at common law.  The Claimants’ primary position before the court was that the Defenders were directly liable.  However, they argued that, in the alternative, the Defenders were vicariously liable.

In a judgment which is 59 pages long and contains 198 paragraphs, Langstaff J, dismissed the direct liabiality argument; however, found that the Defenders were vicariously liable.  This is an important judgement in the field of privacy and data protection and it is one that employers should certainly be aware of.  The court has found a data controller liable to the claimants arising out of a criminal enterprise by one of their employees.  It is certainly worthy of much fuller analysis and I will provide such an analysis on this blog in due course; however, it is a lengthy judgment and it will take some time to properly read and digest.

It should be noted that this may not be the end of this litigation; Morrisons have been given permission by Langstaff J to appeal the finding on vicarious liability to the Court of Appeal if they so wish.  We await to see whether Morrisons decide to appeal the decision.

Alistair Sloan

If you would like advice or assistance in connection with Data Protection/Privacy, or if you would like advice and assistance with any other Information Law matter we would be pleased to hear from you. You can contact Alistair Sloan on 0345 450 0123.  Alternatively, you can send him an E-mail.

Data Protection/Privacy Enforcement: October 2017

Continuing the regular monthly look at Data Protection and Privacy enforcement taken by the Information Commissioner, this blog post reviews the enforcement action published during October 2017.

Key Points

  • When seeking consent for the purposes of direct marketing, be clear and precise in the language that you use.
  • When buying-in lists of contact details for the purpose of Direct Marketing you are responsible for ensuring that the there is valid consent in place so carry out your own due-diligence.
  • You are responsible for the direct marketing calls made by your agent as you are the instigator of the calls
  • If you have access to personal data as part of your job, do not access it unless you have a valid reason to do so in connection with your employment.

Enforcement Action published by ICO in October 2017

Xerpla Limited

Xerpla Limited was served with a Monetary Penalty Notice [pdf] in the amount of £50,000 after the Information Commissioner found that they had sent more than 1 million unsolicited direct marketing communications by electronic mail.  The Information Commissioner considered that Xerpla was not clear or specific enough about who subscribers were agreeing to receive marketing from.

Vanquis Bank Limited

Vanquis Bank Limited were served with an Monetary Penalty Notice [pdf] in the amount of £75,00 and an Enforcement Notice [pdf] after the Information Commissioner found that they had sent text messages and E-mails marketing credit cards without consent.

The Lead Experts Limited

The Lead Experts Limited were served with a Monetary Penalty Notice [pdf] in the amount of £70,000 and an Enforcement Notice [pdf] after the Information Commissioner found that they had instigated automated marketing calls to telephone subscribers without the subscriber’s consent.

Prosecutions

A former employee of Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust was fined £300, ordered to pay prosecution costs of £364.08 and a victim surcharge of £30 after pleading guilty to an offence under the Data Protection Act 1998.  The defendant had accessed the health records of a single patient 279 times over a three-week period in October and November 2015, viewing the files up to 50 times in a day.  The patient was known to the defendant, but she had no valid lawful reason to access the records and did so without her employer’s consent.

Alistair Sloan

If you require advice and assistance in connection with any of the issues above, or any other Information Law matter, please do contact Alistair on 0345 450 0123 or by completing the form on the contact page of this blog.  Alternatively, you can send me an E-mail directly.