UK: Six month prison sentence for motor industry employee in first ICO Computer Misuse Act prosecution

From the Information Commissioner’s Office:

A motor industry employee has been sentenced to six months in prison in the first prosecution to be brought by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) under legislation which carries a potential prison sentence.

Mustafa Kasim, who worked for accident repair firm Nationwide Accident Repair Services (NARS), accessed thousands of  customer records containing personal data without permission, using his colleagues’ log-in details to access a software system that estimates the cost of vehicle repairs, known as Audatex.

He continued to do this after he started a new job at a different car repair organisation which used the same software system.  The records contained customers’ names, phone numbers, vehicle and accident information.

NARS contacted the ICO when they saw an increase in customer complaints about nuisance calls and assisted the ICO with their investigation.

The ICO usually prosecutes cases like this under the Data Protection Act 1998 or 2018, depending on the individual case.  However,  in appropriate cases, it can prosecute under other legislation – in this case s.1 of the Computer Misuse Act 1990  – to reflect the nature and extent of the offending and for the sentencing Court to have a wider range of penalties available.

Mike Shaw, Group Manager Criminal Invesitgations Team at the ICO said:

”People who think it’s worth their while to obtain and disclose personal data without permission should think again.

“Although this was a data protection issue, in this case we were able to prosecute beyond data protection laws resulting in a tougher penalty to reflect the nature of the criminal behaviour.

“Members of the public and organisations can be assured that we will push the boundaries and use any tool at our disposal to protect their rights.

“Data obtained in these circumstances is a valuable commodity, and there was evidence of customers receiving unwarranted calls from claims management companies causing unnecessary anxiety and distress.

“The potential reputational damage to affected companies whose data is stolen in this way can be immeasurable. Both Nationwide Accident Repair Services and Audatex have put appropriate technical and organisational measures in place to ensure that this cannot happen again.”

Mr Kasim pleaded guilty to a charge of securing unauthorised access to personal data between 13 January 2016 and 19 October 2016, at a hearing in September 2018 and was sentenced at Wood Green Crown Court.

Confiscation proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act, to recover any benefit obtained as a result of the offending, have been commenced and are ongoing.

It’s not obvious to me why this case resulted in prison time while another case involving NARS employee wrongdoing in 2016 resulted in (only) a fine earlier this year. reached out to the ICO’s press office to ask. Was this case really so much worse in the ICO’s opinion than the other case? I’ve written to the ICO to ask for any clarification on why this one resulted in prison time. When I get a response, I’ll post it.

Update: The ICO responded to my inquiry, saying,

“The earlier case of Bagnall was charged differently under s55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 which does not carry a custodial sentence. The offending in this particular case was on a smaller scale.”

For those who like bright lines, that may not be satisfactory, but it’s something.

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2 comments to “UK: Six month prison sentence for motor industry employee in first ICO Computer Misuse Act prosecution”

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  1. Robin - November 13, 2018

    Presumably as the defendant in the other case was still an employee of NARS with legitimate access to the system, it would have been hard to prosecute them under the Computer Misuse Act so they decided to settle for the DPA with lighter penalties. Whereas this guy had no legitimate access to the system and was using other people’s credentials so they had him bang to rights under the Computer Misuse Act and used it to get a custodial sentence.

    • Dissent - November 13, 2018

      According to the ICO, who just emailed me their response, the difference was based on the scale of the offending.

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