On 20th December 2019, the Information Commissioner published a Penalty Notice [pdf] it had issued under the Data Protection Act 2018 to Doorstep Dispensaree Limited in the sum of £275,000. While we have had the Marriot and British Airways Notices of Intent, this is the first penalty notice published by the Information Commissioner exercising her powers under the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation to issue administrative fines (formally known in the UK as “Penalty Notices”).
In this case, the Information Commissioner was acting upon information received from another UK Regulator (the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, or “MHRA”). The MHRA had executed a search warrant under its own regulatory scheme and discovered in a courtyard approximately 500,000 documents containing personal data, all of which were contained in an insecure manner. The MHRA inspected the documents and discovered that they contained personal data and special category personal data. The documents were dated from January 2016 to June 2018 and the condition of them indicated that they had been stored in the courtyard for some time. The Information Commissioner began an investigation; she wrote to the data controller asking a number of questions. The controller responded, via its solicitor; however, its response didn’t answer any of the Commissioner’s questions, but instead it seemed to the Commissioner (as recorded in the penalty notice) that the controller was denying any knowledge of the documents.
The Commissioner followed-up with more information and repeated the questions initially asked. The controller refused to answer those questions and the Commissioner records that it appears as though the Controller was conflating the separate investigation by the Commissioner with the one being undertaken by the MHRA. The Commissioner thereafter issued it with an information notice, which the controller (unsuccessfully) appealed to the First-Tier Tribunal. The Commissioner’s Penalty Notice then records that after the appeal was disposed of by the Tribunal, the controller did not comply timeously with the notice and the Commissioner had to threaten the controller with obtaining an information order and/or issuing a penalty notice.
The controller finally responded to the Information Notice, refusing to provide some information (under section 143(6) of the Data Protection Act 2018) on the basis that providing that information would open the controller up to prosecution by the MHRA in its separate criminal investigation. The controller provided various documents to the Commissioner, most of which were dated from 2015.
The Commissioner ultimately found that the controller’s infringements of data protection law were systemic in nature; the Commissioner pointed to the inadequate and outdated policies and procedures that it had in place. Furthermore, its privacy notice fell far short of what was enquired by Articles 13 and 14 of the GDPR. Interestingly, there appears to be no reference in the Penalty Notice to the early payment discount that was a feature of monetary penalty notices issued by the ICO under the Data Protection Act 1998.
The controller was also issued with an Enforcement Notice [pdf] by the Commissioner; which requires the controller to, among other things, update its internal policies and procedures, appoint a member of staff as an Information Governance Lead or Data Protection Officer, introduce mandatory training and update its privacy notice in line with Articles 13 and 14.
This Penalty Notice contains much that can be of assistance to controllers when it comes to enforcement action under the GDPR. The first point that is worth mentioning is that it is not recommended that controllers do not co-operate with the ICO during investigations. Indeed, controllers (and processors) and their representatives are under a positive duty to co-operate with the Commissioner (Article 31 of the GDPR). In any event, the Commissioner has a range of powers to ensure that she can properly investigate alleged breaches of data protection law; including, the power to issue an information notice, obtain an information order and obtain (and execute) a search warrant. It’s important that where you’re facing multiple regularly investigations simultaneously that you take each one seriously and understand precisely what each regulator is investigating and what their respective powers are.
It also appears that the Commissioner has dropped the early payment discount that used to be offered to controllers to encourage them to pay the penalty notice (an appeal automatically meant that the controller lost the early payment discount, as it would delay payment of the monetary penalty).
We are able to assist data subjects, controllers and processors with data protection law matters, as well as a range of other information law concerns. If you would like to speak to us about an information law matter, then please contact our team on 0141 229 0880 or by E-mail.