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Responsibility should be a consideration when it comes to fines for data losses

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Regulatory fines from the Information Commissioner's Office are ‘intelligent', but more responsibility needs to be taken in public sector incidents.

In a recent SC Magazine webcast, an audience poll asked whether the right of the Information Commissioner's Office to fine businesses and organisations up to £500,000 had changed the way listeners did business, 52 per cent said it had not, while 24 per cent were not sure.

Speaking on the webcast former information commissioner Richard Thomas, now a consultant at law firm Hunton & Williams, said that he pushed for fines for three years for "serious enforcement powers".

“When I was commissioner it was a huge frustration that I had no powers to impose fines at all and there was a convoluted enforcement notice which was hard to use in practice, and it sent the signal that no one really cared much about data protection,” he said.

Thomas said that he called for the power in government and the law was changed as he left. He said: “For my mind, the right to impose fines must be a good thing.”

Jonathan Armstrong, partner at law firm Duane Morris, said that Thomas and current information commissioner Christopher Graham should be applauded for campaigning and using the fines respectively, and called the use of fines ‘intelligent'.

He said: “Generally speaking, those people that deserve the higher fines get them.” However he went on to say that attitudes of a fine to a public sector company resulting in the closing down of a hospital ward or cut in public spending should be taken on board, as if a CEO of a private sector company was fined "he'd be paying for that personally".

“To somehow say ‘yes I am happy to take a private sector equivalent salary but I am not happy to take a private sector level of responsibility' is wrong,” he said.

“I don't want them to be flogged through the streets, but if you are a senior executive at a local authority or health trust and you have data on vulnerable children, you have to take the same level of responsibility as in the private sector.

“I'd like to see a more difficult resolution for those people concerned than saying ‘I'll close some beds in the hospital to cover for my mistake'.”

Thomas also said that except for the heinous incidents, the proposals made in the new Data Protection Directive could be excessive when it came to mandatory fines.

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