UK: Review of the impact of the ICO’s civil monetary penalties

Have civil monetary penalties (CMP) for data protection breaches had any impact in the U.K.? The Information Commissioner’s Office has had the authority to issue such penalties since April 2010 for serious breaches of the Data Protection Act (DPA), and since May 2011 for serious breaches of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

From the Information Commissioner’s Office:

In February 2014 we commissioned research into the impact of CMPs. The research consisted of telephone interviews with 14 organisations that had received a CMP and 85 peer organisations in the same sectors who had not received a CMP.

The 14 organizations who had received a CMP consisted of seven local authorities, three private companies, one local health authority, one police force, one central government department and one regulator. All of the organisations in the sample had self-reported their breach. Six respondents challenged the Notice of Intent.

The key findings included:

The research findings indicate that CMPs are effective at improving data protection compliance. This was particularly clear for organisations that had been issued with a CMP; the research showed a clear impact on how those organisations managed their data protection responsibilities:

  • Organisations took their data protection obligations seriously, with revised practices and policies, and increased staff training.
  • Data protection was given a higher profile, with greater senior management buy-in.
  • Staff awareness was raised through targeted campaigns, with the importance of handling data properly made more prominent.
  • The research confirmed that this positive impact was extended to ‘peer’ organisations, where CMPs had a wider impact as a useful deterrent and an incentive to ‘get it right first time’. A substantial proportion of this sample said that they had reviewed or changed their data protection practices and policies as a result of hearing about CMPs being issued to other organisations. This indicates that CMPs effectively contribute to achieving specific outcomes in the ICO’s Information Rights Strategy:
    •    to ensure organisations are aware of the ICO’s enforcement powers; and
    •   the ICO deploys its enforcement tools in a way that provides an incentive for organisations to ‘get it right’ first time.

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