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Data breach howlers to get up to £500,000 fine

Ministry of Justice awaits Parliamentary approval

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The Information Commissioner's Office is threatening to slap penalties of up to half a million pounds on data controllers who are found guilty of serious breaches of the Data Protection Act.

According to a statement on the Ministry of Justice's website, the government is pushing for Parliamentary approval of its Civil Monetary Penalties - Setting the Maximum Penalty report.

"The main benefit of these proposals is greater compliance by data controllers, leading to greater public confidence in data handling practices. This increased confidence may encourage people to provide their details to bodies in both the public and private sectors," it said.

The ICO published the government's response to the public consultation, as well as its proposed overhaul to the DPA regulations, today.

"Between October 2007 to October 2008, 277 data security breaches were notified to the ICO, mainly IT-related loss/theft," the government said in its impact assessment report.

"These statistics provide examples which demonstrate the weakness of some organisations in processing data adequately and in full compliance with the data protection principles."

The government mulled several monetary penalties, before settling on a £500,000 maximum fine. It admitted that if the rules come into law, overall compliance costs for data controllers - of which there are around 319,000 in the UK across the private and public sectors as of 2009 UK.gov figures - would increase.

"Civil Monetary Penalties of up to half a million pounds will ensure that the Information Commissioner is able to impose robust sanctions on those who commit serious contraventions of the data protection principles," said Justice Minister, Michael Wills.

"Most data controllers do comply with the principles, but since misuse of even small amounts of personal data can have very serious consequences, it is vital that we do all that we can to prevent non-compliance. Penalties of up to £500,000 will act as a strong deterrent."

If the plan is given the thumbs up at the Palace of Westminster, the DPA fines will come into force on 6 April this year. ®

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