‘This case is out of the ordinary, but we must follow our usual processes’ – ICO head on Farage complaint

The issue of whether the former UKIP leader is allowed an account with private bank Coutts – and whether his personal information has been sufficiently protected – has dominated headlines of late

The Information Commissioner’s Office has stressed that it will not treat the recent data-protection complaint from representatives of Nigel Farage any differently for any other case.

Headlines have been dominated in recent weeks by the story of the closure of the former UKIP leader’s account with private bank Coutts. Following BBC reporting on the case – that claimed the account had been closed because it no longer met the threshold of £1m in investments and borrowings or £3m in cash savings – representatives of Farage contacted the ICO to express concerns that his personal data may have been unlawfully shared by NatWest, which owns Coutts.

In a public statement responding to these reports, the information commissioner John Edwards acknowledged that the case is likely to attract greater attention than most data-protection complaints – but stressed that the regulator will treat it no differently because of this.

“This case is out of the ordinary in terms of its profile, but it is important that we follow our usual processes and procedures,” he said. “This means that an organisation would be given a chance to respond to a complaint before the ICO gets involved.”

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It has been revealed that, prior to closing his account, Coutts had compiled a dossier on Farage analysing his public persona and claiming he could be seen as “xenophobic and racist [and] is considered by many to be a disingenuous grifter”.

Edwards added that he has contacted the banking sector’s trade association UK Finance to issue a reminder that any process of collecting and processing customer information must adhere to data-protection law.

“Banks need to hold a lot of information about customers, to properly run their accounts, and to uphold the law around aspects like money laundering. But data protection rules still apply,” he said. “I have written to the banks [this week] to remind them of their responsibilities to the public. Banks should not be holding inaccurate information, they should not be using information in a way that is unduly unexpected, and they should not be holding any more information than is necessary. Even the information banks gather around politically exposed persons must follow the law. We are working with HM Treasury, who set the rules in this area, and with the Financial Conduct Authority, who oversee those rules.”

The existence and contents of the dossier came to light following a subject access request through which Farage exercised his legal right to ask NatWest for a copy of all the information on him held by the bank.

As part of a crackdown on organisations failing to meet their duties in responding to the requests, Edwards has previously stressed the importance of SARs as the “gateway to evening out power imbalances” and “fundamental to empowering individuals”.

“Nigel Farage’s experience shows why data protection rights remain so important,” the commissioner said this week. “The right to require an organisation to show you the information they hold about you, known as a subject access request, is a powerful one, and is one that is open to us all. It brings transparency, reassurance, and it can flag where errors have been made and where the record should be corrected. The ICO has a wealth of information and support on our website to help anyone looking to make a request. Where needed, we can also step in should an organisation not properly consider or comply with a request.”

Sam Trendall

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