M&S broke privacy rules in laptop theft

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The Independent Online

Marks & Spencer has been found guilty of breaking data protection rules following the theft of a laptop which contained the personal details of 26,000 employees.

The laptop containing the pension arrangement details of M&S staff was stolen during a burglary at the home of a supplier in April.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the privacy watchdog, said yesterday that the employees' details were unencrypted, which meant they were not secure. The high street retailer was found to be in breach of the Data Protection Act after an investigation by the ICO and it ordered M&S to ensure that all of its hard drives are fully encrypted by April.

Mick Gorrill, the ICO's assistant commissioner, said: "It is essential that before a company allows personal information to leave its premises on a laptop there are adequate security procedures in place to protect personal information, for example, password protection and encryption." The ICO has issued M&S with an enforcement notice ordering it to step up its laptop security. Failure to comply with such a notice is a criminal offence.

A spokeswoman for M&S said there had not been any problems reported by staff members following the laptop theft. "We willingly agreed with the ICO several months ago that we would encrypt all our hard drives," she added. "We have been working hard to do this since October last year." She said the company had not been expecting the ruling and was surprised by the findings.

Meanwhile, the retailer's chief executive, Sir Stuart Rose, has revealed his sense of humour by replying to a spoof letter from a customer claiming to be a naturist, that he, too, used to enjoy walking down the street "as naked as the day I was born".

Responding to the author Duncan McNair, he wrote: "I may be King of the M&S Castle, Master of the Bra Universe, the Obi Won Kenobi of Fresh Fruit, but I look back on those days in Ealing, when I could walk down the High Street, naked as the day I was born, feeling free and natural. Heady times indeed."

Sir Stuart, who is currently embroiled in a debate over the quality of M&S's underpants, recently said the trading conditions on the high street were the toughest in a decade after the retailer reported its weakest trading for two and a half years. The retailer reported a 2.2 per cent drop in like-for-like sales for the Christmas period, which sent shares in the retail sector plummeting.