Tag Archives: Personal Data Breaches

Compensation for identifiable third parties following a data breach

The subject of data protection has, once again, been visited by the England and Wales Court of Appeal. At the end of last week the Court (Gross LJ, McFarlane LJ and Coulson LJ) gave its judgment in an appeal brought by the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Home Office against a decision of the England and Wales High Court in which it was found liable to three members of a family following a data breach.

The Factual Background
The facts as found proved by the court at first instance are more fully set out in the judgment of Mitting J ([2016] EWHC 2217 (QB)), but they can be summarised for the purposes of this blog post in the following way.  The case concerns three members of a family TLT, TLU and TLV. TLT and TLU are married (but have different surnames) and TLU is the teenage son of TLT (sharing the same surname). In 2010 the family lawfully arrived in the United Kingdom. They claimed asylum. They were also jointed by an older child who was, in 2010, 17 years of age. Upon turning 18, he applied for asylum in his own right. His application fro asylum was rejected and he was returned to Iran in 2012. TLT and TLU heard from relatives in Iran that upon his return to Iran their son had been detained and tortured and subsequently released after paying a bribe.

On 15th October 2013 the Home Office suffered a data breach when it accidently published more information than it had intended to concerning the family return process. It had intended to publish the statistics contained in the first sheet of a spreadsheet, but not the underlying data that was contained in a second sheet. The error was discovered on 28th October 2013 and the spreadsheet was immediately removed from the internet. It was discovered that by the time the spreadsheet was removed at least one unknown individual had downloaded and saved the spreadsheet.

In November 2014 a person who had downloaded the page and the spreadsheet from the UK Border Agency’s website uploaded the spreadsheet onto a US website; this was later removed on 18 December 2013.

The personal data of TLT was included within the spreadsheet; in particular it included both his forename and surname, his nationality (Iranian), his date of birth and age. It also noted that “assisted return” was being pursued and stated that the removal case type was “Family with Children – Voluntary”. It further acknowledged that asylum had been claimed.

In March 2014, TLU received some communications from a family member in Iran. These communications advised that the Iranian authorities had detained another member of TLU’s family and questioned them about “you”. It was said that the authorities in Iran claimed to have documentation showing that TLT and his family had claimed asylum.

The issues on appeal
There were three issues on appeal:

  • Did the spreadsheet in question contain the private and/or confidential information?
  • Did the spreadsheet contain personal data of which TLU and TLV were the data subjects?
  • Even if the information in the spreadsheet did not contain the personal data of TLU and TLV, are they entitled to damages for the distress they have suffered under section 13 of the Data Protection Act 1998 in any event?

The first issue
This issue amounts to a common law tort in English law. At para 28 of the judgment of the Court of Appeal Gross LJ said that “this issue is short, straightforward and essentially one of fact.” Gross LJ had “no hesitation in concluding that the Home Office’s publication of the spreadsheet misused TLU’s and TLV’s private and confidential information.” [31] TLT was the lead family claimant and the detailed nature of the information concerning TLT as such meant that TLU and TLV “could readily be identified by third parties” and that they “had a reasonable expectation of privacy and confidentiality in respect of their information in the spreadsheet.” [31]

The second Issue
In terms of section 1 of the Data Protection Act 1998, personal data was defined as meaning “data which relate to a living individual who can be identified (a) from those data, or (b) from those data and other information which is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller, and includes any expression of opinion about the individual and any indication of the intentions of the data controller or any other person in respect of the individual.” The Data Protection Act 1998 was the domestic vehicle through which the United Kingdom implemented is obligations under Directive 95/46/EC (which has, of course, now been replaced by the General Data Protection Regulation, but is still relevant for the purpose of this case as that was the law in force at the time). Recital 26 of the Directive noted that the “principles of protection” should take account “of all the means likely reasonably to be used either by the controller or by any other person to identify the” data subject.

In the present case, limb (b) of the definition of personal data was met in relation to TLU and TLV. The Home Office had argued that the information contained in row 1101 of the spreadsheet (which concerned TLT) did not “relate to” TLU and TLV. This was rejected by the court with reference to the statutory language. [39]

The Home Office had also sought to rely on Durant v Financial Services Authority as a means of trying to limit the scope of personal data (and therefore its liability) in this case. However, Gross LJ held that Durant, when properly applied, “powerfully reinforces the case for TLU and TLV” [44] and that Auld LJ was simply stating “a broad, practical working assumption.” [42] There was nothing within Durant that enabled the Court to depart from the conclusions that they must reach in light of the decision by the Court of Appeal in Vidal-Hall v Google and the Supreme Court in Common Services Agency v Scottish Information Commissioner

Third Issue
In the circumstances, this issue did not arise and the court felt it best to leave resolution of it “to a case where a decision is required” on it. [48]

The appeal was therefore dismissed by Gross LJ on all three issues that were raised and McFarlane LJ and Coulson LJ simply agreed adding no further comments of their own.

This is an interesting, but not unexpected, decision from the Court of Appeal which will be binding on all lower courts in England and Wales and will be persuasive in Scotland. It is difficult to find fault with the approach taken by the Court of Appeal or the judge at first instance; indeed, this is very much the view of the Court of Appeal. It does make it clear though that it will be possible for data subjects not directly referred to within the compromised data arising out of a data breach to sue for damages in certain circumstances. The first instance case had become an important case when such situations arose and now that the Court of Appeal has confirmed the approach adopted by the first instance judge it is likely that we will see more claims of this nature being made.

The circumstances in the present case are fairly clear-cut, but not all situations where liability might arise will be as clear-cut. The GDPR is not going to have any real impact upon this position; the definition of personal data essentially adopts the same two-stage test as was to be found within section 1 of the Data Protection Act 1998. Therefore this pre-GDPR case will continue to be instructive in the post-GDPR world we now inhabit.

Alistair Sloan

If you require further information in relation any data protection or privacy law matter 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.

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/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 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.

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.

Information Law Review of 2017

2018 is now upon us and this is a big year in the field of Information Law, the General Data Protection Regulation will at last become applicable in the United Kingdom.  If you are a data controller or a data processor, your preparations for the GDPR should be well under way; however, if you have not yet started to prepare for these regulations then it is not yet too late.  The lesser known brother of the GDPR also kicks in this year, the Law Enforcement Directive, which governs the processing of personal data by law enforcement agencies.

However, before I get stuck into what is coming this year in the field of Information law, I want to take a moment to look back at some of the things that happened in 2017.  At the tail end of 2017 the High Court in England issued its anticipated judgment in the case of Various Claimants v WM Morrisons Supermarket PLC  [2017] EWHC 3113 (QB)This represented a significant development in the data protection field and opens up a much wider range of circumstances in which data subjects can sue a data controller under Section 13 of the Data Protection Act 1998.

In October 2017, the Irish High Court made a reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union at the request of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner seeking a preliminary ruling on “Privacy Shield”, the successor to the Safe Harbour rules which had previously been held to be unlawful by the European Court.

In September 2017, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision concerning the application of the right to a private and family life contained in Article 8 of the European Court of Human Rights to the monitoring of a person’s communications by their employer.

Also in September 2017, the UK Government published its Data Protection Bill which will replace the Data Protection Act 1998, extends GDPR standards to areas not within the competence of the European Union and implements the Law Enforcement Directive, among other things.

Now looking ahead to 2018, it is possible that we might see a decision from the English Court of Appeal in the Morrisons case referred to above, the judge having granted permission to Morrisons to appeal his findings in relation to vicarious liability.  We may also see claims for compensation being made based upon the Morrisons decision.

In Scotland, we will be expecting to see some more progress made by the Scottish Parliament in its consideration of the Children and Young People (Information Sharing) (Scotland) Bill.  I provided written evidence to the Education and Skills Committee on this Bill last year.  The Committee has had some difficulty in completing its Stage 1 consideration of the Bill and the previous deadline of 22 November 2017 for completion of Stage 1 was removed by the Scottish Parliament.

It is also possible that we will see the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-Legislative scrutiny Committee begin to undertake a post-legislative inquiry into the operation of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (or announce that such an inquiry will take place in due course).  If such an inquiry does take place, it will be the first time that there will have been a complete review of the Scottish FOI Act and how it is operating.

Staying on the subject of Freedom of Information in Scotland, we are likely to see the outcome of the Scottish Information Commissioner’s formal intervention in respect of the Scottish Government’s compliance with the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.  We are also likley to see an Order being made under Section 5 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 designating Registered Social Landlords as scottish public authorities with effect from 1st April 2019.

By the end of 2018 we should also hopefully have a much better idea as to what the UK’s relationship with the European Union will be after it leaves, and in particular what impact this will have on data protection and privacy law in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

There will no doubt be a raft of new court decisions in relation to both Privacy/Data Protection and Freedom of Information over the course of the next 12 months and I will attempt to address the most important and unusual decisions here on the Information Law Blog from Inksters Solicitors.

Alistair Sloan

If you would like advice or assistance with Privacy and Data Protection matters (including GDPR preparation) or with UK and Scottish Freedom of Information requests contact Alistair Sloan on 0345 450 0123 or you can E-mail him.

Compensation in Data Protection law

Section 13 of the Data Protection Act 1998 makes provision for a data subject to raise court proceedings for payment of damages where there has been a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 which has caused them damage and/or distress.  The provisions in Section 13 have not been used as often as they might otherwise have; this may have been partly down to the way in which the legislation was initially drafted, but that was rectified (in England, at least) by the English Court of Appeal in Google Inc v Vidal-Hall and ors [2015] EWCA Civ 311.

The General Data Protection Regulation, which is due to become applicable in the UK from 25th May 2018, makes provision for data subjects to obtain compensation from controllers and processors in Article 82.  The right is for “any person who has suffered material or non-material damage as a result of an infringement of [the GDPR]” to be compensated.  Clause 159(1) of the Data Protection Bill (which is still in the early stages of the parliamentary process), provides that this “includes financial loss, distress and other adverse effects.”

A Data Subject is not limited to claiming compensation from the controller.  The GDPR provides that a processor will “be liable for the damage caused by processing only where it has not complied with the obligations…specifically directed to processors or where it has acted outside or contrary to lawful instructions of the controller.”

Article 82(3) of the GDPR introduces a defence to such a claim for compensation, but it is an exceptionally high test.  No liability arises where the controller or processor “proves that it is not in any way responsible for the event giving rise to the damage.”  The burden of proof falls on the controller or process and liability attaches even where the processor or controller is responsible for the event causing the damage in the most minor of ways.

The terms of Article 82(3) create joint and several liability for controllers and processors.  In a situation where multiple controllers and/or processors are all partially responsible for the event giving rise to the damage; the data subject could elect to sue any one of them (or indeed, all of them).  Where the data subject elects to sue just one controller/processor who is responsible, controller/processor is entitled to recover from the other controllers/processors “that part of the compensation corresponding to their part of responsibility for the damage.”

Where the data subject elects to sue more than one controller/processor then Recital 146 of the GDPR explains that, in accordance with Member State law, compensation may be apportioned by the court according to the responsibility of each controller or processor for the damage caused by the processing.

The GDPR does not stipulate any maximum amount of compensation that can be awarded to data subjects; however, Recital 146 of the GDPR explains that data subjects should receive full and effective compensation for the damage they have suffered.  Quite what “full and effective compensation” mean is something that will be worked out as the courts grapple with the new provisions.  There have been almost no published decisions from the Scottish courts in respect of claims for compensation under Section 13 of the Data Protection Act 1998, but where there have been decisions the compensation awarded has not been particularly high.  For example, Sheriff Ross awarded the each of the Pursuers £8,364 in Woolley v Akbar [2017] SC Edin 7.  That case concerned the use of CCTV at private dwellings and the compensation figure was calculated on a nominal rate of £10 per day that the Defender was in breach of the Act.

The GDPR only applies to processing of personal data in areas which are within the competence of the European Union; however, the Data Protection Bill extends the scope of the GDPR to areas beyond the competence of the European Union.  Clause 160 of the Bill provides for compensation where it cannot be claimed under Article 82 and the clause mirrors the terms of Article 82.

In Scotland both the Sheriff Court and the Court of Session will have jurisdiction to hear claims under Article 82 of the GDPR and Clause 160 of the Data Protection Bill (as is the case with claims under Section 13 of the Data Protection Act 1998).  In practice it is likely that the vast majority of claims will be heard in the Sheriff Court given that it is unlikely that any claim will exceed £100,000 and will therefore be within the privitive jurisdiction of the Sheriff Court.  However, with the advent of Group Proceedings (see Section 17 of the Civil Litigation (Expenses and Group Proceedings) (Scotland) Bill [pdf]) it is possible the Article 82 claims will end up the Court of Session as the Bill only provides for a group proceedings procedure in the Court of Session.

Those who process personal data should be aware that the right of a data subject to claim compensation, whether that be under the Data Protection Act 1998, the GDPR or the Data Protection Bill (when it becomes an Act), arising out of a data protection breach is in addition to any enforcement action that the Information Commissioner takes, such as the issuing of an administrative fine.

Alistair Sloan

If you would like to pursue a claim for compensation for a data breach, or if you require to defend such a claim; 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.

The GDPR and Personal Data Breaches

Under the current data protection framework in the UK only some data controllers are placed under an obligation to notify the Information Commissioner’s Office of data breaches.  That will change on 25 May 2018 when the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) becomes applicable.   Under the GDPR all data controllers will be required to report certain types of data breaches to the Supervisory Authority (the Information Commissioner in the UK); it will also place an obligation to report some breaches to the affected data subjects.

What breaches need to be reported to the ICO?

It should be stressed that the provisions in the GDPR regarding notification of breaches apply to all data controllers.  If you’re a data controller that isn’t presently under an obligation to report data breaches then it is important that you prepare for having to comply with this requirement.  The timescales for reporting a breach to the ICO are tight.

A personal data breach is defined in the GDPR as a breach of security leading to the accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorised disclosure of, or access to, personal data transmitted, stored or otherwise processed.

All personal data breaches will require to be reported to the ICO, unless the personal data breach is unlikely to result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons.   Therefore, only the most minor of personal data breaches will not require to be reported.  The obligation is on the data controller to decide whether or not the breach meets the threshold to be reported and equally, the obligation on being able to justify why a personal data breach did not need to be reported falls on the data controller.

When do I need to report the breach to the ICO?

The GDPR requires that personal data breaches which require to be brought to the attention of the ICO need to be reported without undue delay and, where feasible, not later than 72 hours after the data controller becomes aware of it.  Where the ICO is notified of the breach more than 72 hours after the data controller became aware of it, the data controller must explain the delay when making the report.

It is likely that only the most exceptional of justifications will be accepted when reporting a data breach outside of the maximum window of 72 hours.  This is because the data controller does not need to supply all of the required information to the ICO at the same time; the data controller can pass on information as they become aware of it.  This means that data controllers should not delay the notification of the breach until after the conclusion of internal investigations.

When do affected data subjects require to be notified of a data breach?

The GDPR requires that affected data subjects be notified of a breach in certain circumstances; although it will likely be considered good practice to notify affected data subjects about most breaches, even when there is no legal obligation to do so.  The threshold for telling affected data subjects is higher than the threshold for reporting personal data breaches to the ICO; not all breaches reported to the ICO will need to be reported to the affected data subjects.

Affected data subjects require to be told of the data breach where the personal data breach is likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons.  Affected data subjects should be told without undue delay.

Are there any Exceptions?

The Data Protection Bill, which has now started its journey through the parliamentary process, proposes that the obligations under Articles 33 (requirement to notify the Information Commissioner of a personal data breach) and 34 (requirement to notify data subjects of a personal data breach) will not apply where exemption is required for either (a) the prupose of safeguarding national security; or (b) defence purposes.

Clause 25 makes provision for a member of the Cabinet, the Attorney General or the Advocate General of Scotland to certify “that exemption from all or any of the provisions listed in section 24(2) is, or at any time was, required in relation to any personal data for the purpose of safeguarding national security” and that such a certificate is “conclusive of that fact”, although there will be a right to appeal such a certificate to the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) who shall be required to apply the same principles as would apply to a claim or petition for judicial review.


The GDPR provides for financial penalties for (a) not reporting a personal data breach to the ICO when notification was required; (b) delays in reporting the personal data breach to the ICO; and (c) failure to notify affected data subjects when there was a requirement to do so.  The financial penalties can be significant – potentially up to €10m or 2% of global turnover, whichever is greater.

It is far too early to say anything about the level of penalties that might be imposed by the ICO and in what circumstances they will make use of these powers.  The power exists and data controllers should be aware of the power to impose administrative fines, but it is probably best not to think too much about the maximum penalties.  I have already published a blog post which covers the subject of administrative fines under the GDPR, which you can read here.

What to do?

It’s going to be important for data controllers to have robust policies and procedures in place around personal data breaches.  These will need to cover identifying personal data breaches, what to do when a personal data breach has been identified and the reporting and monitoring of personal data breaches.  It will also be essential to ensure that there are sufficient resources in place to ensure that reports are made to the ICO in time; someone being on holiday or off sick is unlikely to be considered sufficient justification for a delay in reporting a personal data breach (especially in medium sized and large organisations).

Alistair Sloan

If you would like advice on personal data breaches under the GDPR, or on any other information law matter, then you can contact Alistair Sloan on 0345 450 0123 or you can send him an E-mail.