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First data fines on the way, says ICO

Half a million quid penalties prove ICO has teeth, says commissioner

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The information commissioner will announce the first organisations to be fined for failing to protect data later this month.

Christopher Graham said that the fines of up to £500,000 "give the ICO the teeth that many people in the past said it lacked". The ICO gained the ability to issue such penalties on 6 April, along with other powers including the option of auditing public sector organisations without their consent.

Speaking at Kable's Information Security event in London on 3 November 2010, Graham said that if HM Revenue and Customs committed a data breach similar to its loss of 25 million people's details in 2007, he would apply "the max" penalty, describing it as "the horror benchmark".

However, Graham added that revenue and customs has worked very hard on improving its data security. "We can all learn from their troubles," the commissioner said. He also said that the ICO will consider the size of an organisation when applying fines: "Are we dealing with an industrial giant or a small district council?" he said.

Graham provided data on losses from different kinds of organisations, showing that the NHS had reported the greatest number of losses as of 29 October, with 377 incidents, 30 per cent of all the 1,254 breaches reported to date. This compares with 360 from the private sector, 184 from local government, 97 from central government and 149 from other public sector bodies.

Health service data losses were dominated by stolen data or hardware, making up 136 (36 per cent) of its reported incidents, followed by 109 cases of lost data or hardware. However, the biggest category of errors in local government came from information disclosed in error, with 62 incidents (34 per cent). "There's just far too much," Graham summed up.

He also defended his decision to tell Google to delete the fragments of personal data it accidentally gathered from wireless networks when taking pictures of streets for its Street View service, which are likely to include passwords, URLs and emails, rather than levying a fine.

Despite describing the collection as "a significant breach of the Data Protection Act", Graham said that Google has now made "bankable undertakings" and will be audited to check that it is following these. It will delete the wrongly gathered data as soon as it is legally able to do so: "The sooner the residue of fragmentary data can be deleted, the better," Graham said.

Other alternatives would mean the information would be held for longer.

He added that the fines regime makes the consequences clear to Google and other firms if they do not comply: "They can see what happens if they don't go along with what we're submitting."

This article was originally published at Kable.

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