The Information Commissioner has reiterated his call for stronger sentencing powers for people convicted of stealing personal data.
The comments come as an employee of a car rental company was sentenced for stealing customer information that accident claims companies could use to make nuisance calls.
Sindy Nagra, 42, from Hayes, sold almost 28,000 customers’ records for £5,000. Appearing at Isleworth Crown Court on Friday, she was fined £1,000, ordered to pay a £100 victim surcharge and £864.40 prosecution costs.
Nagra was an administrative assistant at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and was responsible for processing customer details sent to the car rental company by an insurance company. The details, typically of people who had been involved in road traffic collisions, included details of the policyholder as well as details of their insurance claim.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car contacted the ICO after their systems identified Nagra was looking at large number of records, including many that she would not have been expected to process.
An investigation found Nagra, who worked from home, had been photographing the records while they were on her computer screen. It was discovered she had sold copies of 28,000 records, receiving £5,000 in cash.
Nagra pleaded guilty to unlawfully obtaining, disclosing and selling personal data, a criminal offence under section 55 of the Data Protection Act. Courts can issue unlimited fines for the offence, but not custodial sentences.
Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said: “Nuisance call cowboys and claims market crooks will pay people to steal personal data. The fines that courts are issuing at the moment just don’t do enough to discourage would-be data thieves.
“This fine highlights the limited options the courts have. Sindy Nagra got £5,000 in cash in return for stealing thousands of people’s information. She lost her job when she was caught, and has no money to pay a fine, and the courts have to reflect that. But we’d like to see the courts given more options: suspended sentences, community service, and even prison in the most serious cases.
“With so much concern about the security of data, it is more important than ever that the courts have at their disposal more effective deterrent penalties than just fines. People who break the criminal law by trading in other people's personal information need to know that they will be severely punished and could even go to prison. We’ve been pushing for this for some time. Parliament voted for it to happen more than seven years ago but it remains on a Westminster backburner. It is high time that changed.”
The records were bought by Iheanyi Ihediwa, 39, from Manchester, who Nagra claimed had been introduced to her after he approached her husband in a pub. Ihediwa appeared before Manchester Magistrates’ Court on 17 December, where he also pleaded guilty to section 55 offences. Ihediwa was fined a total of £1,000, ordered to pay prosecution costs of £864.40 and a victim surcharge. The Court also made a destruction order in respect any data held by the defendant.
Notes to Editors
- The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
- 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.
- The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The ICO has the power to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
- 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; and
- not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.