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July 15, 2009

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Operator of blacklisting database fined GBP 5000

The boss of a West Midlands firm who ran a secret database that effectively blacklisted construction workers in the UK over the last 30 years has been fined £5000 for breaching the Data Protection Act — an amount slammed as “totally inadequate” by the unions.

Ian Kerr was sentenced at Knutsford Crown Court yesterday (16 July) following an investigation earlier this year by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) into his company, The Consulting Association. Kerr held details on more than 3200 building workers and sold their personal details to construction contractors. Some of the biggest firms in the country, including Amec, Balfour Beatty, Costain and Laing O’Rourke, were found to be subscribers to the database, from which Kerr made almost £480,000 in fees between April 2006 and February 2009.

Said deputy information commissioner, David Smith: “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.”

There are no punishments available under the principles of the Data Protection Act to prosecute the users of Kerr’s service, which is why the ICO chose only to take action against him. However, the commissioner has said he is “minded to use the strongest powers available to him” to serve enforcement notices on 17 of the 45 construction firms his investigation revealed had paid Kerr for workers’ details. The ICO was unable to confirm who these firms are as yet but said it would be making an announcement in this respect shortly, subject to any representations made by the companies.

Responding to the news of Kerr’s fine, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “This fine is totally inadequate and in no way reflects the seriousness of the offence. Thousands of trade unionists have been unable to work as a result of this man’s activities, and may struggle to get work in the future. It is vital that the Government introduces, without delay, new regulations outlawing all blacklisting, to prevent the profoundly undemocratic practice of discrimination against those who choose to join unions and to campaign through them to make UK workplaces much safer places to be employed.”

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is currently seeking views on draft Regulations in this respect.

Since 16 March, the ICO has been running a dedicated helpline for those who believe information about them may be held on Kerr’s database. Some 1800 enquiries have been made so far, and more than 120 individuals who appeared on the database have had their information returned to them.

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