Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Kerr fine prelude to wider action

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The £5,000 fine levied on Ian Kerr yesterday (plus £1,187 in respect of the costs of the Information Commissioner) for running the Consulting Association’s blacklist of trade unionists was indeed a joke – rightly condemned by the TUC as ‘totally inadequate’.

The Consulting Association took some £479,000 in fees between 2004 and 2009 and Kerr, who the ICO believes ran the blacklist for fifteen years, was one of four employees and on a salary of £48,000 at the time of the ICO raid at the beginning of March this year. Furthermore, the Macclesfield magistrates who first heard Kerr’s guilty plea referred Kerr to a crown court for sentencing since they believed the maximum fine they could impose was ‘woefully inadequate’, whereas there are no limits on the fine a crown court can impose. That maximum? £5,000.

That’s a disgrace.

The fine should have been punitive pour encourager les autres and to impose the same fine that the magistrates had already rejected as insufficient is a slap in the face not only for the 3,213 trade unionists directly affected by the activities of the Consulting Association but for trade unionists everywhere: it belittles us and sets an extremely low price for the discrimination that we potentially suffer for pursuing activities which support our society’s democratic values. Penalties for this sort of activity in the future need to be significant and judges need to recognise that.

The question of penalties, I’m sure, will be put right in consequence of BIS’s blacklisting consultation, about which I blogged a few days ago.

But the Information Commission’s strongly-worded Press Release goes on to state that the Commissioner is ‘minded’ to:

Use the strongest powers available to him and serve Enforcement Notices on 17 construction firms that paid Mr Kerr for details on construction workers.

The Press Release goes on to state that the Commissioner has written to the 17 firms with ‘formal enforcement action’ to follow ‘shortly’. David Smith, Deputy Commissioner, went on to say:

Ian Kerr colluded with construction firms for many years flouting the Data Protection Act and ignoring people’s privacy rights. Trading people’s personal details in this way is unlawful and we are determined to stamp out this type of activity.

This is the right action and is to be applauded – provided, of course, that it is pursued as single mindedly as the intent in the words above seems to describe. Tackling those that trade in such information is one way of seeking to prevent its use in the future, with a nod to the sequence of events that may see other such covert organisations rising in the future just as the Consulting Association succeeded the Economic League (for which Kerr also worked); tackling the companies that use it is, arguably, even more important since it may help more directly to prevent the  succession of such activity in the future.

The 17 firms which are the subject of this further enforcement activity by the ICO – as well as the 23 or so others who also used the Consulting Association – need to be publicly named and shamed (you can find the ICO’s list directly here), and any action which the ICO can direct here needs to be pitched at a level with a view towards ensuring that this sort of activity is indeed stamped out. The ICO also runs a ‘Personal Information Promise’ scheme under which organisations can demonstrate their commitment to protecting people’s personal information: this needs greater currency and, indeed, greater clout.

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Written by Calvin

17/07/2009 at 12:47 pm

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