Heathrow Airport Limited fined £120,000 by ICO for “serious failings” in data protection

Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) has been fined £120,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for failing to ensure that the personal data held on its network was properly secured.

On 16 October 2017, a member of the public found a USB memory stick which had been lost by a HAL employee. The stick, which contained 76 folders and over 1,000 files, was not encrypted or password-protected. The member of the public viewed the material contained on the memory stick at a local library.

Although the amount of personal and sensitive personal data held on the stick comprised a small amount of the total files, of particular concern was a training video which exposed ten individuals’ details including names, dates of birth and passport numbers as well as the details of up to 50 HAL aviation security personnel.

The USB stick was passed to a national newspaper which took copies of the data before giving the stick back to HAL.

Steve Eckersley, the ICO’s director of investigations, said: “Data protection should have been high on Heathrow’s agenda, but our investigation found a catalogue of shortcomings in corporate standards, training and vision that indicated otherwise. Data protection is a Boardroom issue. It’s imperative that businesses have the policies, procedures and training in place to minimise any vulnerabilities around the personal information that has been entrusted to them.”

The ICO investigation found that only 2% of HAL’s 6,500-strong workforce had been trained in data protection.

Other concerns noted during the investigation included the widespread use of removable media in contravention of HAL’s own policies and guidance and ineffective controls preventing personal data from being downloaded to unauthorised or unencrypted media.

HAL carried out a number of remedial actions once it was informed of the breach including reporting the matter to the police, acting to contain the incident and engaging a third party specialist to monitor the Internet and The Dark Web.

Due to the date of the information breach, the case was dealt with under the provisions and maximum penalties of the Data Protection Act 1998 and not the 2018 Act which has now replaced it.

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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