ICO starts to bear its teeth ahead of GDPR as fines start ramping up

New research from PwC reveals that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)  levied 35 fines in 2016 for breaches of the Data Protection Act (DPA). This is almost double the 18 fines from the year before.

Those fines totalled £3.2 million, which makes the UK the most active country in Europe in terms of regulatory enforcement of data protection laws. The next most penalised country was Italy (£2.86 million). However, figures across Europe pale in comparison to the US, which sees far more incidents and whose regulators can issue much larger fines. The PwC reports that US organisations were fined a total of approximately $250 million (about £193 million) in 2016.

Preparing for the GDPR
The gap between US and EU regulatory powers is set to shrink when the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect next year. From 25 May 2018, all organisations that process EU residents’ personal data must comply with the Regulation, or they’ll face fines of up to €20 million (about £17.4 million) or 4% of their annual global turnover – whichever is greater.

This is much higher than the current limit for EU regulators. For example, the maximum fine that the ICO can currently issue for a breach of the DPA is £500,000 – although it is yet to do so. The largest fine a UK organisation has received from a breach of data protection laws has been £400,000 which was levied against Kerboom Communications in May 2017 and TalkTalk last year.

PwC addressed the arrival of the GDPR in its study. The company’s global cyber security and data protection legal services lead, Stewart Room, advised UK organisations to use the next year to prepare for the GDPR, adding: “We’ve performed more than 150 GDPR readiness assessments with our clients around the world. Many struggle to know where to start with their preparations, but also how to move programmes beyond just risk reviews and data analysis to delivering real operational change”.

It’s impossible to ignore the impact of legal and regulatory change in this area in recent years. The GDPR has already been a force for good by bringing the issue to much wider attention. After all, who can argue against what is essentially a code for good business, where privacy by design becomes part of everyday operations?

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