A firm of loss adjusters has been fined £50,000 for unlawfully disclosing personal data which had been obtained illegally by senior employees and rogue private investigators.
A director and a senior member of staff at Kent-based Woodgate and Clark Ltd have also been sentenced to record financial penalties, along with the private investigators involved.
The case was part of an ongoing ICO investigation into allegations of a criminal trade in confidential personal information involving corporate clients suspected of using the services of rogue private investigators.
Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner, said:
“The illegal trade in personal information is not only a criminal offence but a serious erosion of the privacy rights of UK citizens.
“As well as these record fines, the organisations and individuals involved also face serious reputational damage as a result of being prosecuted by the ICO.”
The data subject involved in the case had made a claim on an insurance policy in relation to a fire at business premises he owned in Lancashire. The private investigators unlawfully obtained confidential financial information, including details of his banking transactions, and disclosed it to Woodgate and Clark Ltd, which then disclosed it to an insurer client.
A jury at Maidstone Crown Court had returned 15 guilty verdicts last month after the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) prosecuted the defendants under s55 of the Data Protection Act 1998. The following sentences – the highest ever imposed for these offences - were passed by the court today:
- The company, Woodgate and Clark Ltd, was convicted of two counts of unlawfully disclosing personal data. It was fined £50,000 and was ordered to pay £20,000 costs .
- Woodgate and Clark director Michael Woodgate, 67, of King Street, West Malling, Kent, was convicted on one charge of unlawfully obtaining personal data and two counts of unlawful disclosing personal data. He was fined £75,000 and was ordered to pay £20,000 costs.
- [Name, age, location redacted], of Kent, senior loss adjuster at Woodgate and Clark, was convicted on two charges of unlawfully obtaining personal data. He was fined £30,000 and was ordered to pay £20,000 costs.
- [Name, age, location redacted], of Cardiff, was convicted in his absence of two charges of unlawfully obtaining personal data and two counts of unlawfully disclosing personal data. He was fined £20,000 and was ordered to pay £20,000 costs.
- [Name, age, location redacted], of Kent, was convicted of two charges of unlawfully obtaining personal data and two counts of unlawfully disclosing personal data. He was fined £10,000 and was ordered to pay £2,500 costs.
The ICO’s investigation began in 2013 after the Serious Organised Crime Agency handed it a list of ‘blue chip’ clients of criminal private investigators.
Ms Denham added:
“Today’s sentencing hearing was part of a long, complex and detailed investigation by ICO staff and our work in this area continues.”
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 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law that will replace the Data Protection Act 1998 and will apply in the UK from 25 May 2018. The government has confirmed that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.
- 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 civil monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000. Criminal prosecutions under s55 of the Data Protection Act can attract an unlimited fine.
- 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.
- Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
- To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns/