A man has been fined almost £4,500 for breaching the Data Protection Act by stealing private health information from members of a fitness club.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) brought action against Paul Hedges for breaches of section 55 of the Data Protection Act. West Hampshire Magistrates Court fined him £3,000 and ordered him to pay £1,376 prosecution costs, and a £15 victim’s fee.
Hedges took medical data that 2,471 members of the public had provided to his former employer, Bitterne Leisure Centre, Southampton. He forwarded this data to his personal email account when he was made redundant and used it to then contact those on the list about his own fitness company.
People started complaining about being contacted, which alerted Southampton Council to the fact the data was being misused, eventually leading to action by the ICO.
Information commissioner Christopher Graham said such incidents were of a serious nature and should not be ignored. He used the case to again argue that the legal regime around section 55 offences needs improving.
"Nobody expects that their health records will be taken and used in this way. This case shows why there is a need for tough penalties to enforce the Data Protection Act,” he said.
“For the most serious cases the current 'fine only' regime will not deter, and other options including the threat of prison should be available. The necessary legislation for this is already on the statute book but needs to be activated. The government must ensure that criminals do not see committing data theft as a victimless crime and worth the risk.”
So far the Ministry of Justice, the department that sponsors the ICO, has hinted it may move to adopt these measures in order to offer a stronger data protection regime, in part due to the findings of the Leveson Inquiry last year.
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