The loss of personal data by government agencies and companies has been in the spotlight in Britain since last year, when Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – the tax people – lost two discs containing information on 25 million people. Since then there have been many more revelations of data loss, including many laptops with unencrypted data stolen. But it was difficult to punish anyone who’d be cavalier with the data, as it wasn’t an offence.
Now it is. The government has made it a civil offence, meaning that offenders could be given large fines. However, it was touch and go as to whether it might be a criminal offence. The House of Lords voted for it to be criminal, but was overruled by the Commons, who voted for just civil penalties as an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act.
The legislation has been well-received by advocates of data privacy. In a statement, deputy information commissioner, David Smith, said:
"This change in the law sends a very clear signal that data protection must be a priority and that it is completely unacceptable to be cavalier with people’s personal information. The prospect of substantial fines for deliberate or reckless breaches of the data protection principles will act as a strong deterrent and help ensure that organisations take their data protection obligations more seriously."
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