Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) has been fined £120,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for failing to ensure that the personal data held on its network was properly secured.

On 16 October 2017 a member of the public found a USB memory stick, which had been lost by a HAL employee. The stick, which contained 76 folders and over 1,000 files was not encrypted or password protected.

The member of the public viewed the material it contained at a local library. 

Although the amount of personal and sensitive personal data held on the stick comprised a small amount of the total files, of particular concern was a training video which exposed ten individuals’ details including names, dates of birth, passport numbers, and the details of up to 50 HAL aviation security personnel.

The stick was passed to a national newspaper which took copies of the data before giving the stick back to HAL.

ICO Director of Investigations, Steve Eckersley, said:

“Data Protection should have been high on Heathrow’s agenda. But our investigation found a catalogue of shortcomings in corporate standards, training and vision that indicated otherwise.

“Data protection is a boardroom issue and it is imperative that businesses have the policies, procedures and training in place to minimise any vulnerabilities of the personal information that has been entrusted to them.”

The ICO investigation found that only two per cent of the 6,500-strong workforce had been trained in data protection.

Other concerns noted during the investigation included the widespread use of removable media in contravention of HAL’s own policies and guidance and ineffective controls preventing personal data from being downloaded onto unauthorised or unencrypted media.

HAL carried out a number of remedial actions once it was informed of the breach including reporting the matter to the police, acting to contain the incident and engaging a third party specialist to monitor the internet and dark web.

The case was dealt with under the provisions and maximum penalties of the Data Protection Act 1998, and not the 2018 Act which has replaced it, because of the date of the breach.

The ICO website contains detail on IT security top tips, A practical guide to IT security and Bring your own device.

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 2018, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  3. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law which applies in the UK from 25 May 2018. Its provisions are included in the Data Protection Act 2018. The Act also includes measures related to wider data protection reforms in areas not covered by GDPR, such as law enforcement and security. The UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.
  4. 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 under the Data Protection Act 2018 to impose a civil monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £17million (20m Euro) or 4% of global turnover. Under the 1998 Act, the maximum financial penalty is £500,000.
  5. Under the GDPR, the data protection principles set out the main responsibilities for organisations. Article 5 of the GDPR requires that personal data shall be:
    • Processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to individuals;
    • Collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes;
    • Adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed;
    • Accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date;
    • Kept in a form which permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary; and
    • Processed using appropriate technical or organisational measures in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data.

      Article 5(2) requires that “the controller shall be responsible for, and be able to demonstrate, compliance with the principles.”
  6. A limited number of civil and criminal enforcement cases – including this case - are still being dealt with under the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 because of the date the breach occurred. The maximum financial penalty in these cases is £500,000.
  7. Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
  8. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by ICO.
  9. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.