Tag Archives: DPA2018

Data Protection and Privacy Enforcement: October 2018

Regular readers of this blog will know that every month I look at the published enforcement action taken by the Information Commissioner in respect of privacy and data protection law. The infractions are often very similar and the same key lessons to take away from the enforcement action appear frequently; October’s enforcement action proves no different. There is, however, a mixture of enforcement action taken under the Data Protection Act 1998 (“DPA98) – in respect of breaches that occurred prior to the 25 May 2018 – and enforcement action taken under the Data Protection Act 2018 (”DPA18).

Key Lessons

  • When the Commissioner’s office makes contact with you in the course of an investigation it is advisable to cooperate with the investigation. The Commissioner has powers to require persons (not just data controllers) to provide her office with information. It is a criminal offence not to comply with an information notice issued by the Commissioner under the DPA98 while a person who fails to comply with an Information Notice served under the DPA18 can be made the subject of an Information Order by the court.
  • Before making telephone calls for the purpose of direct marketing it is essential that organisations check their list against the list held by the Telephone Preference Service. It is against the law to call a number listed with the TPS for the purposes of direct marketing unless you can show that the recipient has not objected, for the time being, to receiving marketing calls from you. The law has recently been changed and the Commissioner will soon be able to serve a monetary penalty on directors of a company for breaches of the requirements of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.
  • Any removable media such as CDs and USB memory sticks should be encrypted to prevent unauthorised access to personal data in the event that the media is lost or stolen. Controllers should also consider putting in place technical barriers to ensure that personal data is not unnecessarily being put onto removable media.
  • When drafting privacy statements where you are seeking to obtain consent for direct marketing; it is important to be specific about just what marketing might be sent. It is insufficient to rely upon statements along the lines of “you consent to receive marketing from our carefully selected third party affiliates” and similar.
  • The person who instigates a call is liable for a contravention of PECR, not the person who makes the call. Therefore you cannot avoid liability by engaging a third party contractor to make calls on your behalf. If you have directed that the calls be made then you are liable for any contraventions of PECR. Therefore, companies who engage third parties to undertake telemarketing on their behalf need to ensure that they have in place adequate due diligence to ensure that there are no negligent contraventions of PECR.
  • It’s not enough to simply rely upon your own internal suppression lists when making telephone calls for the purposes of direct marketing; it is also important that call lists as screened against the list maintained by the Telephone Preference Service. It’s also important that companies engaging in telesales regularly obtain an updated version of the list maintained by the TPS and you should never seek to rely upon a version of the list that is more than 28 days old.
  • It can be worthwhile brining appeals against Notices served by the Commissioner – especially where the terms of the notice are unclear. Where reasons are provided for a decision they generally require to be intelligible.

Enforcement action published by the Information Commissioner in October 2018

Oaklands Assist UK Limited
Oaklands Assist UK Limited (“OAUK”) was served with a Monetary Penalty Notice  in the sum of £150,000 [pdf] after the Commissioner found that OAUK had used a public electronic communications service for the purpose of direct marketing in contravention of Regulation 21 of the Privacy and electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (“PECR”). It appears that OAUK did not initially comply with the Commissioner’s investigation as the penalty notice states that the Commissioner had to serve an Information Notice on OAUK and it only made contact with the Commissioner’s office when they were threated with prosecution for failure to comply with an Information Notice. The Commissioner found that OAUK had made 63,724 direct marketing calls to numbers that were listed on the TPS, in contravention of Regulation 21 of PECR.

Heathrow Airport Limited
Heathrow Airport Limited (“LHR”) was served with a monetary penalty notice in the sum of £120,000 [pdf] after the Commissioner found that it had breached the seventh data protection principle in schedule 1 to the DPA98. LHR had lost an unencrypted USB memory stick which had been found by a member of the public in West London. The member of the public who found the USB memory stick took it to a public library where they accessed it. Approximately 1% of the files on the memory stick contained personal data, including sensitive personal data. The Commissioner found that the use of removable media was widespread within LHR, but that there was little in the way of measures in places to ensure oversight. Furthermore, there were no technical barriers in place to limit or restrict the downloading of information from LHR’s systems onto removable media.

Boost Finance Limited
Boost Finance Limited (“Boost”) was served with a monetary penalty notice in the sum of £90,000 [pdf] after the Commissioner found that it was responsible for a large number of unsolicited E-mails in respect of pre-paid funeral plans. The Commissioner found that Boost (trading as findmeafuneralplan.com) had instigated, via affiliates that it had appointed, in excess of 4 million unsolicited marketing E-mails contrary to Regulation 22 of PECR. The E-mails were sent to individuals who had subscribed to a number of Boost’s affiliates. The Commissioner concluded [para 16] that Boost had “relied upon inadequate, generic, vague, misleading, tiered and incomplete personal data collection methods and privacy statements as a way of obtaining consent to send direct marketing E-mails.”

Aggregate IQ Data Services Limited
This is not a new Enforcement Notice, but rather it is a notice of variation of the first ever enforcement notice served under the DPA18 [pdf]. Aggregate IQ Data Services Limited (“AIQ”) was served with an enforcement notice by the Commissioner in respect of her investigation into data analytics in politics (which arose out of the allegations surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica). AIQ had appealed the Notice to the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) and has since discontinued that appeal. The revised notice is in much tighter terms than the original notice served by the Commissioner. The revised notice requires AIQ to “[e]rase any personal data of individuals in the UK, determined by reference to the domain name of the email address processed by AIQ, retained by AIQ on its servers as notified to the Information Commissioner…” AIQ is required to do this within 30 days of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia notifying it that either the OIPC no longer requires it for an investigation, or that the OIPC informs AIQ that it is happy for AIQ to comply with the notice (whichever occurs the soonest).

Facebook Ireland Ltd
Facebook Ireland Ltd is the company who UK users (and indeed other EU users) of the Facebook social media platform have a relationship with. The Commissioner served Facebook Ireland with a monetary penalty notice in the sum of £500,000 for breaches of the first and seventh data protection principles [pdf]. The Commissioner considered that Facebook UK Limited, a UK establishment, had carried out certain activities on behalf of Facebook Ireland and Facebook Inc. As the breaches occurred while the DPA98 was still in force, £500,000 represents the maximum penalty that the Commissioner could issue. It is understood that Facebook Ireland has appealed the monetary penalty to the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights).

ACT Response Limited
The Information Commissioner served ACT Response Limited (“ACT”) with a monetary penalty notice in the amount of £140,000 [pdf] after she found that ACT had instigated in excess of £490,000 telephone calls for the purposes of direct marketing in contravention of Regulation 21 of PECR. The company operated its own internal suppression list, but did not screen its lists against the Telephone Preference Service list. ACT provided a copy of a training manual to the commissioner during her investigation, which contained a script which directed those making the calls to ask whether a person was listed on the TPS and to apologise if they were. ACT tried to blame the contravention on one of its sister companies as the company that made the calls, but the sister company made the calls on behalf of ACT and the lines used to make the calls were registered to ACT.

Alistair Sloan

If you require advice and assistance in connection with any of the data protection/privacy issues above, or any other Information Law matter, please do contact Alistair Sloan on 0141 229 0880 or by sending him an E-mail directly.  You can also follow our dedicated information law twitter account.

Personal Data and FOI: to anonymise or not to anonymise

I recently wrote a blog post covering the release of third party personal data under freedom of information laws in both Scotland and the rest of the UK. Requests which seek the release of third party personal data, or where information within the scope of a FOI request constitutes the personal data of a third party, are the most common examples of where freedom of information and data protection overlap; however, they are not the only examples.

On Friday of last week, the Herald contained a piece covering calls which had been made to anonymise FOI requests which are sent to government advisers. These calls follow on from some high profile disagreements between the Scottish Government and journalists. The allegations levelled against the Scottish Government is that ministers and their advisers are having undue influence over what information is and is not released under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002; in particular where the request comes from a journalist. The Scottish Information Commissioner is currently carrying out an “intervention” which is looking at this matter alongside one which has a wider remit in relation to the Scottish Government’s handling of FOI requests. It is understood that the Commissioner’s Office will report its findings of these interventions in the next month or so.

These wider issues are not, however, the focus of this blog post. Rather, the focus of this blog post relates to the call to anonymise FOI requests in this way and whether this is a practice that public authorities ought to be following in any event.

The General Data Protection Regulation and the Data protection Act 2018 now govern how organisations, such as public authorities, process personal data. Reducing the data protection framework down to its most basic requirement, data controllers should not be processing the personal data of a data subject unless they have a lawful basis to do so.

When a public authority circulates a request for information, or a proposed response to a request for information, that is not stripped of the personal data of the requester then that would amount to the processing of personal data of which the requester is the data subject. What is the lawful basis of processing in Article 6 of the GDPR which enables the public authority to process the requester’s personal data in that way?  Clearly there is a need for the requester’s personal data to be processed in order to enable the response to be issued to the requester and there will no doubt be some central record which records who has made FOI requests, what the request was for and what the outcome of the request was – if only to enable the authority to respond to an internal review, appeal to the Commissioner or appeal to the tribunal/courts.

The Authority cannot possibly have the consent of the data subject to process their personal data by circulating it around the authority. Consent cannot be inferred in the way that would be necessary in order to rely upon consent. There’s no contract with the data subject which would require the processing of their personal data in this way.

Answering a FOI request is a legal obligation on behalf of the public authority, but is it necessary to provide the name of the requester to the department(s) who need to search for the information or to an official or adviser who is having in put into the response? Probably not, especially when set against the ‘applicant blind’ way in which FOI requests are supposed to be dealt with. Is it necessary in order to protect the vital interests of the data subject or of another natural person? I’d have thought it unlikely. Again, it’s unlikely to be necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in the controller. Finally, it’s unlikely that it would be necessary for the purposes of the legitimate interests pursued by the controller or by a third party.

In short, it’s unlikely that it is necessary for those searching for the information or considering the proposed response to know who the requester is. There are, of course, situations where a different course might be required. For example, if considering refusing the request on the grounds that it is vexatious under section 14 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 or section 14 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000; it will often be necessary to speak with other areas of the organisation, especially persons responsible for handling complaints. In such circumstances it would be necessary for those being consulted to know the identity of the requester, otherwise the evidence required in order to justify reliance upon the vexatious provisions could not be gathered.

In normal circumstances, public authorities should probably be removing personal data such as a requester’s name, place of work and job title (where included) from a request before sending it out to those who need to perform searches for information or those who, in accordance with the authority’s internal procedures, need to approve responses before they’re issued. Only where the identity of the requester is directly relevant to the response, such as where consideration is being given to refusing the request on the grounds that it is vexatious, should the identity of the requester be disclosed otherwise it may amount to a breach of data protection law.

It may be relevant at this juncture to look, briefly, at the applicant blind requirement of freedom of information law. The applicant blind requirement is not specifically provided for within the relevant legislation; however, it has been understood for some considerable time that requests ought to be dealt with in a way that means that they are applicant blind.  The applicant blind requirement is often largely over-stated.  There are clearly situations where the applicant’s identity will be relevant; for example is it a request for that person’s own personal data or is it a vexatious/repeated request or are you aware of any disability which may mean that you need to make reasonable adjustments in terms of the Equality Act 2010?  If public authorities applied the applicant blind requirement absolutely and slavishly, it would cause difficulties in those situations and also in others.

The purpose of the applicant blind test is to ensure that, other than where the exemption necessitates it, the requester’s identity does not form part of the decision in whether to apply an exemption or in the application of the public interest balancing test. Anonymising FOI requests when they go out to the wider organisation or to selected individuals for comment/approval assists to ensure that the applicant blind aspect of the FOI regime is also complied with.

Alistair Sloan

If you require advice and assistance in connection with a freedom of information or data protection matter then contact Alistair Sloan on 0141 229 0880. Alternatively you can send Alistair and E-mail.

Data Protection Act 2018

Earlier this week the House of Lords and the House of Commons completed their game of ping pong with the Data Protection Bill and it completed its journey through the Parliamentary procedure; a journey which began when the Bill was introduced to the House of Lords by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in September 2017.  Almost eight months later, and after quite a bit of amendment, the Bill has now received Royal Assent to become the Data Protection Act 2018.

It is expected that the various pieces of secondary legislation which are required to bring the Act into force and make transitional provisions will be signed by a Minister in the DCMS later today or tomorrow to ensure that the Act comes into force on Friday.

The new Data Protection Act 2018 does a number of things: (1) it deals with those areas within the GDPR, such as exemptions, which have been left to Member States to deal with individually; (2) applies the GDPR (with appropriate medications) to areas which are not within the competence of the European Union; and (3) gives effect to the Law Enforcement Directive (which should have been in place by the 6th May 2018, but better late than never).

Data Protection law has become much more complex than was the case under the Data Protection Act 1998; it requires individuals to look in many more places to get a proper handle upon what the law requires (and that’s before we start to get decisions from the European and domestic courts).

There has been an indication by some campaign groups that there might be an early challenge to the immigration exemption within the Bill which will have an impact upon the information that data subjects can obtain from the Home Office under the subject access provisions within the GDPR.  It will certainly be interesting to see whether such a challenge is in fact made and what the outcome of it is – and of course, we will cover any decision on that point should one be made by a court.

Alistair Sloan

If you require further information in relation any data protection or privacy law concern then please do contact Alistair Sloan on 0141 229 0880 or by E-mail. You can also follow our dedicated information law account on twitter for news and updates concerning data protection, privacy and freedom of information.