The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is warning employees that walking off with the personal information of their employer when changing jobs is a criminal offence.

The warning comes on the day a paralegal, who previously worked at Jordans Solicitors in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, was prosecuted for illegally taking the sensitive information of over 100 people before leaving for a rival firm in April 2013. The information was contained in six emails sent by James Pickles in the weeks before he left the firm. Pickles had hoped to use the information, which included workload lists, file notes and template documents but still contained sensitive personal data, in his new role.    

Appearing at Bradford and Keighley Magistrates Court today, 29 year-old Pickles was prosecuted under section 55 of the Data Protection Act and fined £300, ordered to pay a £30 victim surcharge and £438.63 prosecution costs.

ICO Head of Enforcement, Stephen Eckersley, said:

“Stealing personal information is a crime. The information contained in the documents taken by James Pickles included sensitive details relating to individuals involved in ongoing legal proceedings. He took this information without the permission of his former employer and has been rewarded with a day in court and a substantial fine.

“Employees may think work related documents that they have produced or worked on belong to them and so they are entitled to take them when they leave. But if they include people’s details, then taking them without permission is breaking the law. Don’t risk a day in court.” 

Unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data is a criminal offence under section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998. The offence is punishable by way of ‘fine only’ - up to £5,000 in a Magistrates Court or an unlimited fine in a Crown Court. 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.

Notes to Editors

1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.

3. The ICO is on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn, and produces a monthly e-newsletter.

4. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:

  • Fairly and lawfully processed
  • Processed for limited purposes
  • Adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • Accurate and up to date
  • Not kept for longer than is necessary
  • Processed in line with your rights
  • Secure
  • Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection

5. If you need more information, please contact the ICO press office on 0303 123 9070.