Leaving Your Job? Don’t Take Personal Data With You Warns ICO

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The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has warned those retiring or taking a new job that under the Data Protection Act 2018, employees can face regulatory action if they are found to have retained information collected as part of their previous employment.

Old Investigation

The renewed warning was issued following the regulator concluding its dealings in an old investigation of two (former) police officers interviewed (by the media) about an historic case they’d worked on as serving officers involving an MP, and had been accused of disclosing details about the case to the media.

In this case, the investigation appears to have related to police handling of personal data such as notebooks and the fact that measures need to be put in place to ensure that these are not retained when officers leave the service.

The ICO investigation, brought about under the previous Data Protection Act 1998 legislation (because the alleged disclosure occurred before the DPA 2018 and GDPR’s introduction) may have resulted in no enforcement action being taken against the two officers, but prompted the ICO to issue a reminder that data protection laws have been toughened in this area.

“Knowingly or Recklessly Retaining Personal Data”

The warning in the ICO’s recent statement is that the Data Protection Act 1998 has since been strengthened through the Data Protection Act 2018, to include a new element of knowingly or recklessly retaining personal data without the consent of the data controller (see section 170 of the DPA 2018).

The only exceptions to this new part of the new Act are when it is necessary for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime, is required or authorised by an enactment, by a rule of law or by the order of a court or tribunal, or whether it is justified as being in the public interest.

Retiring or Taking a New Job

The ICO has warned that anyone who deals with the personal details of others in the course of their work, private or public sector, should take note of this update to the law, especially when employees are retiring or taking on a new job. Those leaving or retiring should also take note that they will be held responsible if the breach of personal data from their previous employer can be traced to their individual actions.


Examples of where the ICO has prosecuted for this type of breach of the law include a charity worker who, without the knowledge of the data controller, Rochdale Connections Trust, sent emails from his work email account (in February 2017) containing sensitive personal information of 183 people.  Also, a former Council schools admission department apprentice was found guilty of screen-shotting a spreadsheet that contained information about children and eligibility for free school meals and then sending it to a parent via Snapchat.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This latest statement from the ICO should remind all businesses and organisations, whether in the private or public sectors, that reasonable measures or procedures need to be put in place to ensure that anyone retiring or leaving for another job cannot take personal details with them that should be under the care of the data controller i.e. you and your company/organisation.

Failure to take this facet of current data law into account could result in fines from the regulator for those individuals responsible, potential legal action from the victims of any breach against your organisation, some bad and potentially damaging publicity, and costly and long-lasting damage to reputation.

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