From recent prosecutions it seems that the Information
Commissioner's Office (ICO) is a body to be taken seriously.
Not only has it continued to bring enforcement action against
organisations for data protection breaches, it also seems recently
to have ramped up prosecutions against individuals for unlawfully
obtaining client data.
A former waste disposal employee, Mr Lloyd, has been prosecuted
by the ICO under section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 for
transferring information about 957 clients of his employer, before
moving to a new job with a competitor. The information transferred
included personal data in the form of contact details and the
purchase history of customers.
Unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data is a criminal
offence under section 55. The offence is punishable by way of a
fine. Mr Lloyd was fined £300, and ordered to pay a victim
surcharge of £30 and £405.98 in costs.
In April 2016, the ICO brought a similar prosecution against an
employee who had attempted to obtain personal data without the
consent of the data controller. At that time the ICO gave a warning
that "anyone who tried to unlawfully obtain, disclose or sell
personal data should expect to see themselves hauled before a
Whilst the fines issued to date have not been of high value, the
recent prosecutions are likely to be an indicator of things to come
and the threat of criminal sanctions could be an additional string
in an employer's bow when discouraging employees from misusing
the employer's information.
Further, although sanctions are currently limited to fines, the
ICO continues to call for more effective deterrent sentences,
including the threat of prison, to be available to the courts to
stop the unlawful use of personal information. These recent
prosecutions should be taken as a strong warning to employees to
think twice before taking commercially sensitive information
containing personal data to a new employer – the risks
aren't simply financial; they may end up facing a criminal
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The employment landscape is one that is constantly shifting. Employers who fail to keep up with the changes do so at their peril.
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