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Misuse of confidential information: another angle – criminal liability

When an employee is about to leave a business it is not uncommon to find that, whatever is said in his/her contract about confidential information, the employee will forward confidential information about customers to his/her home computer for use in their next job.

In addition to an action for breach of their obligations under the contract of employment a recent case brought by The Information Commissioner's Office (“ICO”) highlights a possible criminal sanction that might be applied.

In a case which came before Telford Magistrates’ Court ICO prosecuted an employee who transferred information about clients before moving to a new job. The employee was working at a waste management company when he sent details of 957 clients to his personal email address. He then left to start a new role at a rival company. That commercially sensitive information included personal data in the form of contact details and the purchase history of customers.

The former employee was prosecuted under section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998, and pleaded guilty at Telford Magistrates' Court to unlawfully obtaining personal data. He was fined £300 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £30 and £405.98 in costs.

The case highlights an area where data protection law and the law of commercial confidentiality overlap and might give another avenue of attack where such a breach is discovered.

For further information please get in touch with the Dispute Resolution team.

About the Author

James Staton


James is a Partner and Head of the Dispute Resolution team and primarily handles commercial…

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