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UK Company Sold Workers' Secret Data 122

krou writes "The BBC is reporting that the Information Commissioner's Office has shut down a company in the UK for a serious breach of the Data Protection Act. It claims that the company, The Consulting Association in Droitwich, Worcs, ran a secret system that it repeatedly denied existed for 15 years, selling workers' confidential data, including union activities, to building firms, allowing potential employers to unlawfully vet job applicants. About 3,213 workers were in the database, and other information included data on personal relationships, political affiliations, and employment histories. More than 40 firms are believed to have used the service, paying a £3,000 annual fee, and each of them will be investigated, too." The article says that The Consulting Association faces a £5,000 fine — after pulling in £1.8 million over 15 years with its illegal blacklist.
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UK Company Sold Workers' Secret Data

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 06, 2009 @09:42AM (#27090475)

    Actually, it can get a lot worse for them, they can be forced to stop all data exports for a long investigation time. I was on a project receiving data for a rather large global company (who is making the news quite regularly these days) from all European markets as part of a pan Europe system. The data itself was nothing special, the company owned it in each market and was merely transferring it around within, yet one country data protection overlords somehow found protocol wasn't precisely being followed. I never found out exactly what was wrong, but that country's data wasn't able to be used for almost two years.

  • by krou ( 1027572 ) on Friday March 06, 2009 @09:52AM (#27090591)
    Just to point out that the original BBC article (when I submitted the story to /.) had a quote from the notes in the illegal database stating that someone was a member of the Communist Party, hence why I mentioned it contained political affiliations. Not sure why the BBC removed this, but just thought I'd mention it in case someone wonders why.
  • by pjt33 ( 739471 ) on Friday March 06, 2009 @10:06AM (#27090749)

    It's only now they've computerised the records that they can use the Data Protection Act to prosecute.

    That's not true. The DPA covers "information which ... (c) is recorded as part of a relevant filing system or with the intention that it should form part of a relevant filing system", where "relevant filing system" is defined as "any set of information relating to individuals to the extent that, although the information is not processed by means of equipment operating automatically in response to instructions given for that purpose, the set is structured, either by reference to individuals or by reference to criteria relating to individuals, in such a way that specific information relating to a particular individual is readily accessible."

  • by Ninnle Labs, LLC ( 1486095 ) on Friday March 06, 2009 @10:24AM (#27090939)
    You mean other than the fact that blacklists like that database are illegal?
  • Inaccurate summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by Apatharch ( 796324 ) on Friday March 06, 2009 @10:26AM (#27090967)

    ...what a surprise.

    The article does not say that the company is being fined £5000; it's the owner himself who faces prosecution, and hence a criminal record.

  • by prefect42 ( 141309 ) on Friday March 06, 2009 @10:51AM (#27091283)

    Cut out the 'in the UK bit'. A quick google gives me outdated figures for 2005/6:

    UK: 59
    US: 5702

  • by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 ) * <> on Friday March 06, 2009 @10:54AM (#27091319) Homepage

    The company has been shut down. Its owner faces prosecution *and* a £5000 fine (and for a case like this they will go for the maximum penalties).

    Also all its customers are now under investigation and also face possible prosecution.

    Also both the original company *and* its customers are wide open for legal action against them if they denied anyone a job because of this data.

    That's a pretty fucking heavy disincentive for anyone doing it again.

  • by rich_r ( 655226 ) < minus cat> on Friday March 06, 2009 @11:38AM (#27091835) Homepage
    It'd work if it wasn't for the fact that Poles are entitled to work in the UK.
    Immigrants yes, illegal no.
  • by Captain Hook ( 923766 ) on Friday March 06, 2009 @12:49PM (#27092741)

    those 3,213 employees are the ones who are blacklisted, that doesn't mean the employers are only checking 3213 potential employees.

    and before anyone says those 3213 employees had it coming for being trouble makers - []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 06, 2009 @03:33PM (#27095455)

    British Employers are paranoid that potential employees are Communists or worse.

    I think you're extrapolating USA anti-communist paranoia to the UK. Trade unions are fairly mainstream - heck, the current ruling party originated as the political arm of the trades unions and they rarely talk about deposing the Queen and hoisting the red flag over London these days (Mind you, the Labour Party and the unions aren't quite as pally these days - the unions having discovered that, whoever you vote for, the Government always gets in). However, union activists might be awkward about pay and conditions...

    ...but quite honestly, even if they were only blacklisting (alleged) alcoholics and thieves, without transparency and accountability that's bad enough.

    So they draft in cheap labor from countries that didn't even exist twenty years ago.

    What? Not their fault, sir. No option, sir. European Union employment mobility and competition laws, sir.

    Now that's a great idea. Of course, any idiot can see that, in order to make a level playing field, you'd first need to harmonize taxes, minimum wages, hiring/firing rules and costs of living across the whole of Europe - or its all going to go pear shaped, especially if you have a recession and unemployment becomes a problem. Trouble is, signing a bit of paper abolishing controls on migrant workers is a lot easier than harmonizing the economies and employment laws of a continent (especially one full of countries that vaccilate between capitalist and socialist governments every few years). Guess what happened...

    No wonder their economy is fucked.

    Britain has always enjoyed a special relationship with our cousins in the USA. Nowhere is this more evident than in the highly effective way we worked together to fuck both our economies (along with many others).

The Macintosh is Xerox technology at its best.