When data security = national security

One of the options open to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), when considering whether to take enforcement action under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) is – as an alternative to such action – to invite an offending data controller to sign an “undertaking”, which will in effect informally commit it to taking, or desisting from, specified actions. An undertaking is a relatively common event (there have been fifty over the last year) – so much so that the ICO has largely stopped publicising them (other than uploading them to its website) – very rarely is there a press release or even a tweet.

There is a separate story to be explored about both ICO’s approach to enforcement in general, and to its approach to publicity, but I thought it was worth highlighting a rather remarkable undertaking uploaded to the ICO’s site yesterday. It appears that the airline Flybe reported itself to the ICO last November, after a temporary employee managed to scan another individual’s passport, and email it to his (the employee’s) personal email account. The employee in question was in possession of an “air side pass”. Such a pass allows an individual to work unescorted in restricted areas of airports and clearly implies a level of security clearance. The ICO noted, however, that

Flybe did not provide data protection training for all staff members who process personal data. This included the temporary member of staff involved in this particular incident…

This is standard stuff for DPA enforcement: lack of training for staff handling personal data will almost always land the data controller in hot water if something goes wrong. But it’s what follows that strikes me as remarkable

the employee accessed various forms of personal data as part of the process to issue air side passes to Flybe’s permanent staff. This data included copies of passports, banking details and some information needed for criminal record background checks. The Commissioner was concerned that such access had been granted without due consideration to carrying out similar background checks to those afforded to permanent employees. Given the nature of the data to which the temporary employee had access, the Commissioner would have expected the data controller to have had some basic checking controls in place.

Surely this raises concerns beyond the data protection arena? Data protection does not exist in isolation from a broader security context. If it was really the case that basic checking controls were not in place regarding Flybe’s temporary employees and data protection, might it raise concerns about how that impacts on national security?

The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

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Filed under Data Protection, Information Commissioner, national security, undertaking

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