Small fines for a big problem

With identity theft the UK's fastest growing crime, the ICO needs to take a firmer stand against dat

The Information Commissioner has handed out its first fines to organisations for data breaches, fining Hertfordshire County Council £100,000 and Sheffield-based employment services company A4e £60,000.

The Information Commissioners Office came under fire recently for seemingly failing to quickly establish that Google had breached privacy rules in the Street View car wireless 'snooping' fiasco, and when it did, doing little about it.

When the ICO finally decided that Google had conducted a "significant breach" of the Data Protection Act, it failed to levy a fine, saying that the breach of privacy had happened before its new powers to impose hefty fines came in, in April. And besides, Google had promised not to do it again.

But this week the ICO finally showed at least a little muscle, fining Hertfordshire County Council £100,000 for sending two faxes containing the confidential details of a child abuse case: one went to a member of the public, another to a legal firm not involved in the case.

The ICO also fined employment services company A4e £60,000 for a laptop which was stolen, containing the unencrypted details of over 20,000 people.

But anyone hoping that the ICO was going to come down hard on such breaches will be dismayed. Since the ICO now has the power to levy fines of up to £500,000, £60,000 seems relatively small beer for the loss of a sensitive laptop.

When the Nationwide admitted to the loss of an unencrypted laptop in November 2006, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) punished it with a fine of £980,000. That despite the Nationwide insisting that the data could not have been used for identity fraud because there were no PIN numbers, passwords or account balances on it.

But the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said the fines he's imposed on Hertfordshire County Council and A4e will send a "strong message" to any firm handling personal or sensitive data in the UK.

Either way, none of this will stop privacy campaigners arguing that it should be a legal requirement for organisations to disclose data breaches to the Information Commissioner. It's currently voluntary except for Whitehall departments and some NHS organisations, though the ICO has warned organisations they face stricter penalties if it finds out about breaches that are not disclosed.

The ICO said it had been alerted to 1,000 data breaches by May this year, but how many more go unreported? Figures for 2009 showed that identity theft was the UK's fastest growing crime. Go figure.

Jason Stamper is NS technology correspondent and editor of Computer Business Review.

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

Photo: Getty
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The campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.