September 10th 2014
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is warning employees thinking of taking the personal information of their employer when leaving a job is a criminal offence.
The regulator issued the warning in the wake of the prosecution of a paralegal, who had worked at Jordans Solicitors in Dewsbury, Yorkshire. 20 year-old James Pickles was prosecuted for illegally taking the sensitive information of over 100 people before leaving for a rival firm in April last year. The information was contained in six emails that he sent in the weeks before he left the firm. He had hoped to use the information – which included workload lists, file notes and template documents, but still contained sensitive personal data – in his new job.
At Bradford and Keighley Magistrates Court yesterday, Pickles was prosecuted under section 55 of the Data Protection Act and fined £300, ordered to pay a £30 victim surcharge and £438.63 prosecution costs.
ICO Head of Enforcement, Stephen Eckersley, commented: "Stealing personal information is a crime. The information contained in the documents taken by James Pickles included sensitive details relating to individuals involved in ongoing legal proceedings. He took this information without the permission of his former employer and has been rewarded with a day in court and a substantial fine."
Mr Eckersley continued: “Employees may think work related documents that they have produced or worked on belong to them and so they are entitled to take them when they leave. But if they include people’s details, then taking them without permission is breaking the law. Don’t risk a day in court.”
Unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data is a criminal offence under section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998. The offence is punishable by way of ‘fine only’ – up to £5,000 in a Magistrates Court or an unlimited fine in a Crown Court. The ICO continues to call for more effective deterrent sentences, including the threat of prison, to be available to the courts to stop the unlawful use of personal information.