Tag: ICO

British Airways Anticipates 90% Discount on GDPR Fine

British Airways Anticipates 90% Discount on GDPR Fine

When the ICO announced their intention to fine British Airways £183million, it was seen as one of the landmark penalties in GDPR. It was a shot across the bow for any company handling personal data, that the ICO intended to make full use of its powers under the new data protection act. Now though, the airline says it expects to pay only 10% of the total fine. So does this mean the regulator is taking a lighter touch?

What happened at British Airways?

In July, the ICO announced that it had fined British Airways £183million after a computer hack which compromised the personal data of half a million people. At the time, the airline said it had been the victim of a ‘highly sophisticated attack’ which compromised the bank information of half a million people who had booked flights through its website.

However, the ICO took the view that information had been compromised by poor security arrangements and took action accordingly. The £183million fine represents an enormous 1.5% of the firm’s annual turnover and is also the largest fine that the ICO has handed out. Furthermore, it was the first fine it made public since the new rules came into force. Under the rules of GDPR, the ICO could have decided to levy a higher fine, amounting to 4% of the annual turnover, should they have deemed necessary.

A reduced fine?

From that perspective, BA could have been said to have got off lightly. However, they immediately announced their intention to defend their position and make any necessary appeals.

“We intend to take all appropriate steps to defend the airline’s position vigorously, including making any necessary appeals.”

Willie Walsh, head of British Airways’ parent company (International Airlines Group) at the time

BA announced its intentions to make representations to the ICO and these appear to have had an effect. In its July 31st statement the company said it had put aside only £20 million to cover the fine. This, it said, represented their “best estimate of the amount of any penalty issued by the ICO”.


If they are correct, the final penalty would represent a 90% reduction and the news has concerned a number of privacy campaigners. Your Lawyers, a consumer action law firm that has been appointed in a Steering Committee position by the High Court of Justice against British Airways in the GDPR case, have condemned the move.

The firm’s director Aman Johal, said that the indication of a vastly reduced fine “is an affront to data protection and the GDPR.”

He went on to say:

“The ICO’s decision last year to issue a record provisional intention to fine was a landmark decision that could set the standard for organisations and act as the candid warning that is so desperately needed in today’s age of continual breaches. Such a substantial reduction could seriously undermine the purpose of GDPR, which was to act as a credible deterrent for organisations to ensure that they protect the information they store and process.”

In a statement the ICO said, “The regulatory process is ongoing, and we will not be commenting until it has concluded.” However, it is unlikely that BA’s management will have plucked this figure from thin air. The chances are, it represents their best guess based on the ongoing negotiations between the airline and the regulator.

What does it mean?

The ICO is remaining tight lipped about the proposed fine, which leaves us to speculate on their possible reasoning. It may be that BA has been highly convincing in its representations to the regulator. If they can show that there were mitigating circumstances or that they had taken measures to safeguard data, the regulator might have been persuaded to take a more lenient stance.

Equally, though, this reduced fine may also be down to the ongoing pandemic – the ICO has already announced that it would take a lighter touch on GDPR enforcement during the pandemic, and will take into account whether an organisation’s financial difficulties have stemmed from the pandemic.

BA, like other airlines, has suffered during lockdown. Passenger numbers fell by 98% in the second quarter of 2020 as lockdown devastated business in various sectors. IAG, the owner of BA, was forced to raise £2.49bn to strengthen its balance sheet after reporting record losses. Over 10,000 jobs have already been cut in an effort to lower costs.

The fine, then, comes at a time that BA’s ability to absorb such a fine would have been compromised. Time will tell on the reasoning, however, with the ICO thus far having not followed through on its intention to fine Marriot Hotels under GDPR, the episode will raise questions about how and what stance the regulator intends to take over GDPR.

DSG Retail Fine - Lessons to Learn

DSG Retail Fine: Lessons to Learn

The ICO’s decision to issue DSG Retail Ltd with the maximum penalty possible highlights how seriously they take data security and what factors influence their decisions.

The ICO’s decision to issue a £500,000 penalty notice against DSG Retail Ltd, under the old data protection act should serve as a warning shot across the bows of the industry. DSG, meanwhile, should be heaving a sigh of relief that the breach happened just before GDPR came into force.

What happened?

The scale of the fine comes thanks to a litany of errors which on their own could have constituted a breach, but taken together amounted to a serious and multifaceted breach of the data protection act.

It started in May 2017 when an assessment of DSG’s point of sale payment terminals across their stores in Curry’s PC World and Dixons Travel found that they were not compliant with PCI DSS standards. Even so, DSG were slow to make changes.

Almost a year later, they discovered that the payment terminals had been compromised. Over the course of night months, a cyber attacker had taken control of a number of domain administrator accounts and installed malware onto the POS system. This accessed payment card details of around 5.6 million customers, although an investigation later found that only a total of 85 cards had been potentially used fraudulently.

The fraudsters had also accessed non financial data belonging to about 14 million customers including credit checks, contact details and failed credit checks. The company was inundated with nearly 3,300 customer complaints about the breach and the regulator received 158 complaints.

  • The ICO’s investigations listed numerous systemic failures including
  • Lack of firewall on the POS terminals
  • Inadequate patching of software
  • A poor response system
  • Insufficient network segregation
  • Mismanagement of the application white listing


These amounted to multiple breaches of the Data Protection Act, but a number of aggravating factors made this even worse. The firm were already aware of the vulnerabilities but failed to take action quickly enough. They took a whole nine months to identify the breach and that Carphone Warehouse which belongs to the same group as DSG had previously been fined £400,000 for the same breach.

The regulator also took into account the volume of the data and the resources that the retailer should have had at their disposal. The scale of the operation and the nature of the breach had the potential to cause significant distress to customers.

Moreover as a major retailer, handling large quantities of sensitive customer data, DSG, should have been able to lead by example. They had plenty of resources at their disposal and should have been able to offer better protection to their customers.

The only mitigating factor is that DSG had taken steps to notify its customers and cooperated with investigators. Even so the regulator deemed the maximum penalty appropriate.

Lessons to be learned

The scale of this fine, should serve as a warning about how serious the ICO is taking data security. Had the breach occurred under GDPR the fine could have potentially been in the millions. It shows the factors the regulator takes into account when deciding including the volume of the data exposed, the nature of the breach, resources of the firm and how the company responded to known breaches.

It’s a reminder for businesses to maintain and proactively monitor their security systems and any deficiencies should be fixed as soon as possible. Cyber crime is becoming so widespread that if a company does identify a weakness, there’s a very good chance an attack will come sooner or later. While firms might be reluctant to spend the time and money fixing issues, if they don’t they run a high risk of finding themselves before the ISO and, with GDPR in full swing, the consequences could be catastrophic.

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