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

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Bertie Carvel's diary: What would the French think about infidelity to Doctor Foster?

The joy of debuting a new series, Rupert Murdoch's squeamishness and a sting in the tail.

According to the adage, the first thing an actor does when he gets a job is to go on holiday. And so, having finished our sold-out run of James Graham’s Ink at the Almeida and with the show (in which I play a young Rupert Murdoch) about to transfer into the West End, I’m packing my bags.

But before I can skip town, I’ve one more professional engagement: the press launch of series two of the BBC drama Doctor Foster, which we finished filming at Christmas. I’ve now seen the final cut of all five episodes, and I’m excited to share it with an audience. There’s no substitute for seeing other people’s reactions at first hand, especially with a show that got people talking so much first time around, and it’s electric to sit in a cinema full of expectant journalists and commentators and feel the room respond. Nothing beats this: to put so much into making a thing and then experience an audience’s unmediated, reflexive reaction. When it goes well, you feel that you’ve shared something, that you’ve all recognised something together about how things are. It’s a unifying feeling. A sort of bond.

Cheating spouses

Handling the interviews has been tricky, when there’s so little one can say without giving the plot away. (The first series began with Suranne Jones’s character Gemma, a GP, suspecting her husband Simon of having an affair.) What’s more, lots of the questions invite moral judgements that I’ve tried my best to avoid; I always think it’s really important not to judge the characters I play from outside, but simply to work out how they feel about themselves, to zero in on their point of view. There’s a sort of moral bloodlust around this show: it’s extraordinary. People seem to want to hear that I’ve been pilloried in the street, or expect me to put distance between myself and my character, to hang him out to dry as a pariah.

While I’m not in the business of defending Simon Foster any more than I’m in the business of attacking him, I am intrigued by this queer mixture of sensationalism and prurience that seems to surface again and again.

Shock horror

Oddly enough, it’s something that comes up in Ink: many people have been surprised to find that, in a story about the re-launch of the Sun newspaper in 1969 as a buccaneering tabloid, it’s the proprietor who considers dropping anchor when the spirit of free enterprise threatens to set his moral compass spinning.

I’ve never given it much thought before, but I suppose that sensationalism relies on a fairly rigid worldview for its oxygen – the SHOCKERS! that scream at us in tabloid headlines are deviations from a conventional idea of the norm. But what’s behind the appetite for this sort of story? Do we tell tales of transgression to reinforce our collective boundaries or to challenge them?

For me there’s a close kinship between good journalism and good drama. I’m reminded of the words of John Galsworthy, who wrote Strife, the play I directed last summer, and who felt that the writer should aim “to set before the public no cut-and-dried codes, but the phenomena of life and character, selected and combined, but not distorted, by the dramatist’s outlook, set down without fear, favour, or prejudice, leaving the public to draw such poor moral as nature may afford”.

So when it comes to promoting the thing we’ve made, I’m faced with a real conundrum: on the one hand I want it to reach a wide audience, and I’m flattered that there’s an appetite to hear about my contribution to the process of making it; but on the other hand I think the really interesting thing about the work is contained in the work itself. I’m always struck, in art galleries, by how much more time people spend reading the notes next to the paintings than looking at the paintings themselves. I’m sure that’s the wrong way around.

Insouciant remake

En route to the airport the next morning I read that Doctor Foster is to be adapted into a new French version. It’s a cliché verging on racism, but I can’t help wondering whether the French will have a different attitude to a story about marital infidelity, and whether the tone of the press coverage will differ. I wonder, too, whether, in the home of Roland Barthes, there is as much space given to artists to talk about what they’ve made – in his 1967 essay, “The Death of the Author”, Barthes wrote that “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination”.

No stone unturned

Touring the villages of Gigondas, Sablet and Séguret later that evening, I’m struck by the provision of espaces culturels in seemingly every commune, however small. The French certainly give space to the work itself. But I also notice a sign warning of a chat lunatique, so decide to beat a hasty retreat. Arriving at the house where I’m staying, I’ve been told that the key will be under a flowerpot. Lifting each tub in turn, and finally a large flat stone by the door, I find a small scorpion, but no key. I’m writing this at a table less than a yard away so let’s hope there won’t be a sting in this tale.

Ink opens at the Duke of York Theatre, London, on 9 September. More details: almeida.co.uk

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear