Six-month sentence handed for data abuse in landmark ICO prosecution

Data regulator hints seeking tougher punishment was an effort to change behaviour in how personal data is held and processed

A motor industry employee has been given a six-month prison sentence for accessing customer records without permission in a landmark prosecution led by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

Mustafa Kasim pleaded guilty on one charge of securing unauthorised access to personal data between January and October 2016, and was sentenced to six months under the Computer Misuse Act (CMA) 1990.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Kasim, who worked for accident repair firm Nationwide Accident Repair Services (NARS), accessed the personal data of thousands of customers on the Audatex IT platform using his colleagues' login details.

This is the first time the ICO has led a prosecution charge in 28 years since the Act came into force, and was motivated by a desire to inflict a tougher punishment on Mustafa Kasim than is conventionally handed for data misuse.

"People who think it's worth their while to obtain and disclose personal data without permission should think again," said the ICO's group manager of the criminal investigations team Mike Shaw.

"Although this was a data protection issue, in this case we were able to prosecute beyond data protection laws resulting in a tougher penalty to reflect the nature of the criminal behaviour.

"Members of the public and organisations can be assured that we will push the boundaries and use any tool at our disposal to protect their rights."

Kasim continued to access customers' personal data when he left NARS and started a new job at a different car repair organisation which used the same software. These details included customers' names, phone numbers, as well as vehicle and accident information.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

NARS approached the ICO upon receiving increased complaints from customers about receiving nuisance calls.

"Data obtained in these circumstances is a valuable commodity, and there was evidence of customers receiving unwarranted calls from claims management companies causing unnecessary anxiety and distress," Shaw continued.

"The potential reputational damage to affected companies whose data is stolen in this way can be immeasurable. Both Nationwide Accident Repair Services and Audatex have put appropriate technical and organisational measures in place to ensure that this cannot happen again."

Cases such as this, concerning data abuse, are normally prosecuted under Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998, or the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which came into force earlier this year.

However, with the timing of the case rendering GDPR inapplicable, and punishment under the DPA 1998 not deemed severe enough, the ICO opted to prosecute Kasim under different legislation.

In this case, the ICO chose section one of the CMA 1990, which prohibits the use of a computer to intentionally gain access to programmes or data held. This offence carries a maximum prison sentence of two years.

Advertisement - Article continues below

The data regulator said "in appropriate cases" it had the remit to prosecute cases via alternative legislation "to reflect the nature and extent" of offences, and so that the court has "a wider range of penalties available".

"This was an appropriate case to pursue under CMA 1990 because the seriousness of this particular offence, which had a number of aggravating factors, meant that a sentence limited to a fine under the DPA would not have reflected the culpability of the offender," an ICO spokesperson told IT Pro.

Featured Resources

Successful digital transformations are future ready - now

Research findings identify key ingredients to complete your transformation journey

Download now

Cyber security for accountants

3 ways to protect yourself and your clients online

Download now

The future of database administrators in the era of the autonomous database

Autonomous databases are here. So who needs database administrators anymore?

Download now

The IT expert’s guide to AI and content management

Your guide to the biggest opportunities for IT teams when it comes to AI and content management

Download now


Computer Misuse Act

Computer Misuse Act 'putting critical UK infrastructure at risk'

22 Jan 2020
data protection

Health sites are 'unlawfully' sharing medical data with Facebook and Google

7 Apr 2020
data protection

Supreme Court rules Morrisons was not liable for 2014 data breach

1 Apr 2020

UK government may trace COVID-19 patients using mobile phone data

20 Mar 2020

Most Popular

Mobile Phones

Microsoft patents a mobile device with a third screen

6 Apr 2020
application programming interface (API)

Apple buys Dark Sky weather app and leaves Android users in the cold

1 Apr 2020

A critical flaw in 350,000 Microsoft Exchange remains unpatched

7 Apr 2020