The Serious Fraud Office just got fined for a major blunder by one temp worker who sent
an anonymous witness in a serious fraud, bribery and corruption investigation evidence relating to 64 other people involved in the case.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which is responsible for the the enforcement of data privacy as well as upholding information rights for the interest of the public, confirmed in a statement today that it hit the Serious Fraud Office with a £180,000 ($US267,095) fine for the mistake.
In 2004, the SFO launched an investigation into a number of senior executives at BAE Systems which were accused of receiving payments, including two properties worth over £6 million, as part of a Saudi Arabia arms deal.
The arms deal spanned from the early 1980s and ended in 2006, which included the sale of tens of billions of pounds worth of arms by BAE Systems to Saudi Arabia.
The case was closed in February 2010.
However, when the SFO started returning evidence, including audio tapes and pages of data, the ICO said a temporary worker “who had received minimal training and had no direct supervision” ended up sending the unidentified witness 2,000 evidence bags between November 2011 and February 2013.
The ICO said that 407 of these bags, in total, contained information about third parties, which included bank statements, hospital invoices, and passport details.
Even more embarrassingly for the SFO, the witness who was accidentally sent the evidence disclosed the blunder and the contents of the bags to The Sunday Times, which published a number of articles based on the information.
“Anyone who provides information to a criminal investigation does not take this decision lightly and often does so at considerable risk to themselves,” said David Smith, Deputy Commissioner and Director of Data Protection at the ICO in a statement. “People will be quite rightly shocked that the Serious Fraud Office failed to keep the information of so many individuals connected to such a high-profile case secure.”
“Given how high-profile this case was, and how sensitive the evidence being returned to witnesses potentially was, it is astounding that the SFO got this wrong. This was an easily preventable breach that does not reflect well on the organisation. All law enforcement agencies should see this penalty as a warning that their legal obligations to look after people’s information continue even after their investigation has concluded.”