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ICO drops BT, ACS Law probe

Dangerous precedent "worse than usual incompetence"

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The Information Commissioner's Office has ended an investigation against BT for handing over customer information to file-sharing-chaser law firm ACS:Law, which then leaked online.

ACS:Law's speciality is sending letters to suspected file-sharers threatening them with expensive legal action unless they send the law firm money for supposed copyright infringement.

Back in September the law firm received details of 500 BT customers in a plain text attachment to an email. This was later leaked online after ACS:Law was hacked. The details were actually customers of PlusNet - which was bought by BT.

But the ICO is quite happy BT can sort the problem out itself.

An ICO spokesperson said: “We have regular contact with a range of organisations regarding allegations of staff inappropriately accessing or disclosing personal information.

“Where it is found that the data controller has adequate policies and safeguards already in place, the usual and most appropriate outcome in these cases is disciplinary action taken by the employer. However, where that employee is accessing records for personal gain, such as selling the data on to third parties, the ICO may open a criminal investigation.”

In other words - it was a member of staff who sent the unencrypted data, and therefore it's not BT's responsibility.

Privacy lobbyists are less impressed. Alex Hanff of Privacy International, which is promising to push for a judicial review of the ruling, said the decision was worse than the ICO's "usual incompetence".

Hanff said: "This is an incredibly dangerous decision for the ICO to have made as it effectively dissolves any pretence that a company is responsible for the actions of their employees at work.

"Christopher Graham has, in essence, now created a Data Protection regime where companies will not be held responsible for the actions of their staff."

More criticism of ICO weakness here.

ACS:Law, which has been criticised by the Law Society, and consumer groups, for its shotgun greymail approach. Andrew Crossley - the lawyer behind ACS:Law - claims to have given up chasing file-sharers. ®

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