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The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has said that it backs the idea that anyone accessing personal data without a valid reason or without their employer’s knowledge is guilty of a criminal offence, should be prosecuted, and prison sentences should be an option.
A recent case involving a nursing auxiliary at Newport’s Royal Gwent Hospital has re-ignited the ICO’s calls to get tough on personal data snoops. In the case of 61-year-old Marian Waddell of Newport, she was found to have accessed the records of a patient who was known to her, on six different occasions between July 2015 and February 2016, without having a valid business reason to do so and without the knowledge of the data controller (at the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board). The data controller is the person who (alone or jointly or in common with other persons) who determines the purposes for which and the manner in which any personal data is to be processed.
In this case, Nursing auxiliary Waddell was found guilty of a section 55 offence (of the 1988 Data Protection Act) and was fined £232, ordered to pay £150 costs, and was ordered to pay a £30 victim surcharge.
Fines … For Now
Section 55 offences of this kind are currently only punishable by fines, and such fines and costs have totalled £8,000 this year for nine convictions.
Section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 refers to the unlawful obtaining etc. of personal data, and it states that “a person must not knowingly or recklessly, without the consent of the data controller – obtain or disclose personal data or the information contained in personal data, or – procure the disclosure to another person of the information contained in personal data.”
The ICO, however, would like to see tougher penalties for data snooping. For example, a blog post by ICO enforcement group manager and head of the ICO’s criminal investigations team, Mike Shaw, highlighted the fact that offenders not only face fines, payment of prosecution costs, but could also face media (Internet) coverage of their offences, and damaged future job prospects. Mr. Shaw also stated that the ICO would like to see custodial sentences introduced as a sentencing option for the courts in the most serious cases.
Not Just An NHS Problem
The ICO have been quick to point out that data snooping and convictions for doing so are not confined to the NHS. Prosecution cases this year have also been brought against employees in local government, charities and the private sector.
Motives for data snooping vary, from sheer nosiness to seeking financial gain.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
With GDPR soon to be introduced and with the ICO now pushing for possible prison sentences for certain data offences, businesses now need to (if they haven’t done so already) make data protection and compliance with data protection law a priority. This story is should remind anyone in any business or organisation that, if you have access to personal data, that data is actually out of bounds to you unless you have a valid and legal reason for looking at it.
Businesses can help to make all staff aware of the rules and regulations for handling and processing data through staff training and education.