The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is warning employees that walking off with the personal information of their employer when changing jobs is a criminal offence, after a man was convicted of it.
A man who previously worked at Jordans Solicitors in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, has been successfully prosecuted for illegally taking the sensitive information of over 100 people before leaving for a rival firm in April 2013.
The information was contained in six emails sent by the paralegal in the weeks before he left the firm. He had hoped to use the information, which included workload lists, file notes and template documents - but which still contained sensitive personal data - in his new role.
Appearing at Bradford and Keighley Magistrates Court this week, the 29-year-old was prosecuted under section 55 of the Data Protection Act and fined £300, ordered to pay a £30 victim surcharge and £440 prosecution costs.
ICO head of enforcement Stephen Eckersley said: "Stealing personal information is a crime. The information contained in the documents taken included sensitive details relating to individuals involved in ongoing legal proceedings. He took this information without the permission of his former employer and has been rewarded with a day in court and a substantial fine."
He said: "Employees may think work related documents that they have produced or worked on belong to them and so they are entitled to take them when they leave. But if they include people's details, then taking them without permission is breaking the law."
Unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data is a criminal offence under section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998. The offence is punishable by a fine only - up to £5,000 in a magistrates court or an unlimited fine in a crown court.
The ICO is continuing to call for "more effective deterrent sentences", including the threat of prison, to be available to the courts to stop the unlawful use of personal information.