Latest Data Protection Act Prosecution

December 6, 2012

Lara Davies, of Barrowash, Derby has been fined after a court heard she unlawfully accessed bank statements of her partner’s ex-wife.

At the time, the offender’s partner was involved in a legal dispute over the terms of a divorce settlement. When certain eBay transactions were raised in a meeting between the estranged couple, the ex-wife became suspicious that her account had been viewed. Barclays, where Ms Davies worked, were contacted, and when they investigated the matter she left her job.

Ms Davies pleaded guilty to 11 offences under the Data Protection Act 1998, s 55. She was fined £500 by Derby Crown Court and ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge and £1,410.80 prosecution costs.

UK Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said:

‘High street bank staff have access to financial information on a day-to-day basis, and are expected to treat that privilege with professionalism. When that trust is abused, and the personal data they access is misused, the law is very clear, as this case has shown. The only surprise here is that – in an age where our personal information is being stored and accessed by more organisations than ever – the penalties for abusing the system are so inadequate.’

The ICO points out in its press release that unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data under s 5 is punishable by way of a financial penalty of up to £5,000 in a magistrates’ court or an unlimited fine in a Crown Court. It repeats its call for ‘more effective deterrent sentences, including the threat of prison’. The Information Commissioner continued:

‘This case illustrates the need for more effective deterrent sentences to be available to the courts, as recommended most recently by Lord Justice Leveson. Unlawful access to personal information is all too easy and all too common – and these days it does not seem to have much to do with the press.’

Laurence Eastham comments:

I think it would come as a shock to Lord Justice Leveson to find that the relevant section of his report is interpreted as seeking the imprisonment of an offender in a case such as this. Yet again, the Information Commissioner is using a fine at well below the maximum that might have been imposed as evidence of the inadequacy of the penalties available. Clearly a Crown Court judge thought that such a level of fine was an adequate punishment. The offender is £2,000 out of pocket and has lost her job. The ICO might be better advised to trumpet that devastating effect if it wants the offence to be taken seriously.