ICO wants jail terms for personal data misuse

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says it wants prison sentences for anyone misusing personal data unlawfully.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says it wants prison sentences for anyone misusing personal data unlawfully.

A nursing auxiliary has been fined for accessing a patient’s medical records without a valid legal reason, prompting the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to reiterate calls for prison sentences.

Cwmbran Magistrates’ Court fined 61-year-old Marian Waddell of Newport £232 after she admitted accessing a patient’s records at Newport’s Royal Gwent Hospital.

She was also ordered to pay £150 costs as well as a £30 victim surcharge for breaching section 55 of the 1988 Data Protection Act.

Waddell accessed the records of a patient, who was known to her, on six occasions between July 2015 and February 2016 without a valid business reason and without the knowledge of the data controller, the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board.

David Teague, the ICO’s regional manager for Wales, said it is disappointing that people continue to get into serious trouble over behaviour that is easily avoidable.

“Staff training, and the publicity around previous cases of this nature, means that they really should know better,” he said, adding that anyone whose work allows them to access sensitive personal data must realise that this information is out of bounds unless they have a valid and legal reason for looking at it.

Mike Shaw, enforcement group manager and head of the ICO’s criminal investigations team, warned that anyone accessing personal data without a valid reason or without their employer’s knowledge is guilty of a criminal offence and will be prosecuted by the ICO.

“If found guilty, you will face a fine and possibly have to pay prosecution costs,” he wrote in a blog post. “The court case will likely be covered by local media and the details played out over the internet. Not only could you lose your job, but your future employment prospects could be irreparably damaged too.”

“Of course, this issue is not unique to the NHS,” he said. “In 2017, we have also prosecuted cases involving employees in local government, charities and the private sector, the latter cases often involving an element of financial gain.”

Currently, section 55 offences can be punished only with a fine, and the nine convictions this year attracted fines and costs totalling more than £8,000.

“But in the future, we would like to see custodial sentences introduced as a sentencing option for the courts in the most serious cases,” said Shaw.

The ICO has long campaigned for custodial sentences for people convicted of accessing personal data unlawfully, especially for financial gain, under former information commissioners Richard Thomas and Christopher Graham, and now under current information commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

Most small businesses (SMEs) not prepared for GDPR

There is still much work to be done before small businesses (SMEs) are fully prepared for the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

There is still much work to be done before small businesses (SMEs) are fully prepared for the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

With the GDPR compliance deadline just over six months away, the UK’s small business community remains unsure about a number of related issues.

Small businesses are struggling to come to grips with what “personal data” really means, their customers’ new and extended rights, and whether the permissions they currently have to contact customers will meet the requirements of GDPR.

This is one of the key findings of the Close Brothers Business Barometer, a quarterly survey that questions more than 900 SME owners and senior management across a range of sectors and regions in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

“GDPR is intended to strengthen and unify data protection for individuals within the EU, but will also affect the UK regardless of Brexit,” said Neil Davies, CEO of Close Brothers Asset Finance.

“It will ensure that all personal data has to be managed in a safe and secure way, has to be gathered lawfully, is only used for the purposes for which it was collected, and must be accurate and up to date.

Poor understanding of GDPR compliance requirements

“The figures from the barometer tell us that uncertainty persists on a number of key compliance issues, and SMEs are concerned about the implications for their business.”

Less than a third (31%) of SMEs answered “yes” to the question, “Are you clear what ‘personal data’ means in a business context?”, with 50% responding “sort of” and the remaining 19% saying “no”.

“On a positive note, 73% of firm owners categorically stated that they do not share customers’ personal data with third parties,” said Neil. “There are, however, companies openly admitting to sharing customers’ details (8%), and a further 18% conceding they were unsure of whether they do or not.”

Less than half (48%) of respondents said they understand the new and extended rights that customers have when it comes to collecting and utilising their personal information.

Despite the lack of clear understanding of the extended rights customers will have, 58% of SMEs are confident that the permissions they currently have to contact customers will meet the requirements of GDPR.

“This still leaves more than 40% of firms which are unconvinced about their readiness ahead of 25 May 2018,” said Neil. “How it works is that companies must get prior consent from data subjects – opt in – and record that consent. What’s more, the consent must relate specifically to the purposes of why a company needs that data – companies cannot get consent for one purpose and then use the gathered personal data for another.

“On top of this, consumers must be able to revoke their consent as easily as it was originally given, because many consumers complain that it is easy to opt in to data gathering, but difficult to unsubscribe or opt out.”

Of those polled, 44% said they had a process in place to ensure their firm was collecting data in the correct manner, against 35% who were “unsure” and 21% admitting they had no existing process in place

“Businesses have to be seen to be compliant, and this includes ensuring these sorts of processes are in place to ensure customers are fairly treated,” said Neil.

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