UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued Equifax with a £500,000 (US$660,000) fine for failing to protect up to 15 million citizens’ personal data.
The incident, which happened between 13 May and 30 July 2017 in the US, affected 146 million customers globally.
The ICO investigation found that, although the information systems in the US were compromised, Equifax Ltd was responsible for the personal information of its UK customers. The UK arm of the company failed to take appropriate steps to ensure its American parent Equifax Inc, which was processing the data on its behalf, was protecting the information.
The ICO’s probe, carried out in parallel with the Financial Conduct Authority, revealed multiple failures at the credit reference agency which led to personal information being retained for longer than necessary and vulnerable to unauthorized access.
The investigation was carried out under the Data Protection Act 1998, rather than the current GDPR, as the failings occurred before stricter laws came into force in May of this year. Today’s fine is the maximum allowed under the previous legislation.
The company contravened five out of eight data protection principles of the Data Protection Act 1998 including, failure to secure personal data, poor retention practices, and lack of legal basis for international transfers of UK citizens’ data.
“The loss of personal information, particularly where there is the potential for financial fraud, is not only upsetting to customers, it undermines consumer trust in digital commerce,” said Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner.
“This is compounded when the company is a global firm whose business relies on personal data. We are determined to look after UK citizens’ information wherever it is held. Equifax Ltd has received the highest fine possible under the 1998 legislation because of the number of victims, the type of data at risk and because it has no excuse for failing to adhere to its own policies and controls as well as the law.”
The ICO found that measures that should have been in place to manage the personal information were inadequate and ineffective. Investigators found significant problems with data retention, IT system patching, and audit procedures.
The agency also found that the US Department of Homeland Security had warned Equifax about a critical vulnerability as far back as March 2017. Sufficient steps to address the vulnerability were not taken meaning a consumer facing portal was not appropriately patched.
The personal information lost or compromised during the incident ranged from names and dates of birth to addresses, passwords, driving license and financial details.