Many UK businesses using personal data still don’t appreciate that they are very likely to be legally obliged to ‘notify’ with the Office of the Information Commissioner (‘OIC’). This recent case shows that even lawyers are not immune and that the OIC does have some sharp teeth.
The Office of the Information Commissioner and Ralph Donner of Feld Mackay & Donner, solicitors
Rochdale Magistrates Court
A Rochdale solicitor was ordered to pay more than £6,500 following a prosecution by the Office of the Information Commissioner ("OIC").
The prosecution had been brought by the data protection watchdog because Mr Donner, a partner at the Rochdale firm of Feld Mackay & Donner, had allegedly failed to notify the OIC of the fact that his firm was processing personal data.
The summons had actually been issued in August 2004 even though the firm had notified in April 2004. However, the OIC said that it had contacted Mr Donner no less than 5 times over a period of 2 years, reminding him that his firm had failed to notify.
Mr Donner had believed in good faith that there was an exemption for a small businesses and had elected to go to a full trial before the magistrates. It may have been because of this that the fine ended up being on the high side at £3,150, with an order to pay £3,500 costs.
Why this matters:
Mr Donner is the eighth solicitor who has been prosecuted under the Data Protection Act 1998 by the OIC in the last 12 months. The verdict shows that the OIC does have sharp teeth and that the obligation on businesses to notify the OIC in the vast majority of cases where they are processing personal data must be taken seriously.
It is possible to quickly and easily check whether your own organisation has notified with the OIC. The register of those who have notified is public and on the OIC's website.
It is also true to say that some of those in the UK who are making use of personal data do not have to notify. These exemptions are very narrow, however, and organisations in any doubt as to whether they should notify should assume that they are obliged to do so but then take advice before completing the necessary application forms and paying the annual £35 fee.