Proof that GDPR fines are like London buses – you wait ages for one to arrive and then two come along at once – has emerged after the data watchdog followed yesterday’s thrashing of British Airways with plans to whack Marriott International with a £99.2m penalty for flouting the regulation.
The planned Information Commissioner’s Office fine relates to a cyber incident that Marriott self-reported in November last year, which exposed about 339 million guest records globally.
According to the ICO, it is believed the vulnerability began when the systems of the Starwood Hotels group were compromised in 2014. Marriott subsequently acquired Starwood in 2016, but the exposure of customer information was not discovered until 2018.
The ICO’s investigation found that Marriott failed to undertake sufficient due diligence when it bought Starwood and should also have done more to secure its systems.
While 339 million records were compromised globally, it is the details of more 30 million EU customers – 7 million who live in the UK – that the ICO is concerned about.
The ICO has been investigating this case as lead supervisory authority on behalf of other EU Member State data protection authorities and has also liaised with other regulators.
Under the GDPR one stop shop provisions, the data protection authorities in the EU whose residents have been affected will also have the chance to comment on the ICO’s findings.
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: “The GDPR makes it clear that organisations must be accountable for the personal data they hold. This can include carrying out proper due diligence when making a corporate acquisition, and putting in place proper accountability measures to assess not only what personal data has been acquired, but also how it is protected.
“Personal data has a real value so organisations have a legal duty to ensure its security, just like they would do with any other asset. If that doesn’t happen, we will not hesitate to take strong action when necessary to protect the rights of the public.”
Like BA, Marriott has co-operated with the ICO investigation and has made improvements to its security arrangements since these events came to light.
The regulator insists the company will now have an opportunity to make representations to the ICO – as well as other EU data protection authorities – before it takes its final decision.
In a statement, Marriott International said it intended to respond and vigorously defend its position. President and chief executive Arne Sorenson said: “We are disappointed with this notice of intent from the ICO, which we will contest. We deeply regret this incident happened. We take the privacy and security of guest information very seriously and continue to work hard to meet the standard of excellence that our guests expect from Marriott.”
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