Britain’s chief data protection agency reports record number of cases involving unlawful use of personal data

The number of resolved cases by the Information Commissioner’s Office rose by 10 per cent with 15 per cent more people calling the organisation’s helpline

The Information Comissioner’s Office (ICO), Britain’s chief data regulator, has announced a record number of data protection complaints cases, ahead of the organisation’s annual report today.

According to the group, last year saw the ICO resolve 15,492 data protection complaints, which resulted in £1.97 million worth of fines being handed out to companies that were found to have breached data protection rules.

The ICO also secured 12 criminal convictions, as well as two cautions for individuals that had obtained or disclosed personal information unlawfully.

The findings from the report show a 10 per cent rise of resolved cases on the previous 12 months, while calls to the ICO advice helpline had increased to 259,903 - a rise of 15 per cent from last year.

The report included a summary of the ICO’s work over the past year, which included number of examples of local councils and government organisations being issued civil monetary for failing to keep

One of these included the Ministry of Justice, who in October last year were fined a total of £140,000 after details of more than 1,000 prisoners at a Cardiff prison were sent out to three prisoner’s families.

The latest annual report has led to Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, calling for better funding for the ICO to ensure that people are protected in the increasingly complicated world of data protection.

He said: “"Facebook, [NHS] care data, Google: it is clear that organisations' use of data is getting ever more complicated. People need to know someone is watching over their information.

"Independence means someone who's got the resources to take on this ever-growing number of cases. The last 12 months have been a record year - more complaints resolved than ever, more enforcement action taken and more advice given through our helpline.

"And it also means having the powers to act on the more serious complaints. A strong regulator is needed if a data breach affects millions of people.

"To do our job properly, to represent people properly, we need stronger powers, more sustainable funding and a clearer guarantee of independence."

In the past the ICO have been accused of leniency, with many privacy campaigners criticising them for their lack of powers and perceived inaction.

This was underlined by the ICO’s inability to carry through an investigation in 2010 into Google’s scooping up of personal information from wi-fi networks, while Google’s cars took pictures for Google Street view website.

The ICO were accused of being too lenient by privacy campaigners when they were unable to fine Google for alleged stealing of personal information

After a second and third investigation Google was still not fined.

However, new powers given to the organisation in January 2012, which required internet and telecommunication companies to assist the ICO as well as allowing the ICO to be able to fine businesses for serious data protection breaches, have led to more cases being followed through.

The 15,492 resolved cases show a marked increase from two years ago; when the ICO reported that they had not issued one single fine.