Losing control of your personal data can be a deeply upsetting experience. Having your private information exposed against your will isn’t just a breach of your trust – it can also have a significant impact on your life, leading to financial losses, identity fraud, and mental distress.
With this in mind, it’s important to be aware that, as a data breach victim, you are not powerless. If you have suffered a personal data breach, you may be entitled to claim compensation. This can be a significant step toward mitigating the damage the breach has caused and helping you to move on with your life.
In this post, we’ll look at specific examples of personal data breaches you can claim compensation for. Then, we’ll look at how you can go about seeking compensation, and provide guidance on how much you may be entitled to claim.
What is a personal data breach?
First, let’s look more closely at what we mean by personal data breach.
It’s likely that, on a day-to-day basis, you share your personal data with many different organisations. Your local medical practice will have access to your medical information, while your employer will have financial data. If you shop online, virtually every company you order from will need your home address and phone number, as well as your debit or credit card information.
Of course, sharing this kind of data so widely puts us all at some risk. You are relying on these organisations to store this data safely and to prevent unauthorised access. If they fail to do so, the consequences for you could be significant.
Thankfully, in the UK there is legislation in place to ensure organisations take this responsibility seriously. The UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act (DPA) 2018 set out strict expectations companies must meet in how they store and process personal data.
When we talk about a personal data breach, we mean that an organisation has failed to meet the requirements of the DPA 2018 and the UK GDPR. As a result, your personal data has not been appropriately safeguarded.
Let’s look at some examples of personal data breaches to see what this means in practice.
Examples of personal data breaches
1. Data being accessed by a third party
The most familiar – and perhaps the most frightening – example of a personal data breach is a third party getting unauthorised access to an organisation’s data. In the most notorious cases, this third party will be a group of cybercriminals who are intent on stealing personal data in order to demand a ransom payment from the organisation in question.
However, it’s important to note that not every occasion where your data is accessed by a third party will constitute a personal data breach. An organisation is allowed to share your data with third parties if they have a lawful basis for doing so. Often, they will ask for your consent to do so as part of their terms and conditions.
For instance, an online retailer may need to share your name and address with a delivery company in order to fulfil your order. This would likely not constitute a personal data breach. However, the delivery company would be held to the same data protection standards as the retailer.
So, to understand whether third-party access constitutes a personal data breach, you’ll need to know if the access was authorised or not, and on what basis your data was shared. In the case of a cyberattack, this will be obvious. In other cases, you may need to speak to the company directly to understand their processes.
2. Accidental or deliberate leak of data by a controller or processor
Some personal data breaches occur without any involvement by a third party. This can happen if your data is accidentally or deliberately shared without a legitimate basis. Something as simple as an email sent to the wrong person or a lack of proper security settings on a website can lead to your data being shared with those who aren’t authorised to access it.
While perhaps less newsworthy than cyberattacks, these kinds of data breaches can be just as damaging – especially if the data controller or processor in question has access to sensitive information. For instance, if a healthcare provider sends a letter detailing your medical condition to the wrong address, this can lead to a great deal of embarrassment and distress.
In other cases, you may face reputational damage and financial losses as a result of an unintended leak. In a recent case taken up by HNK, North Wales Police posted a photo containing a man’s personal information, including his bank details, on their public Facebook page. This put the man at risk of identity fraud and theft, as well as causing significant distress.
3. Devices holding personal data being lost or stolen
As remote and hybrid working becomes more common, so too does the use of laptops, tablets and other devices for work purposes. But while this may have benefits for employees, it can put organisations at greater risk of a data breach.
If those devices contain personal data – spreadsheets with customer information, for instance – then they represent another way in which data can be exposed. If a laptop or other work device is lost or stolen, the data it holds may be accessed by an unauthorised person.
Of course, many organisations are now taking steps to ensure work devices are secure even in these circumstances. Strong password protection and a remote access function can help to safeguard data after it has been lost or stolen. However, if these kinds of steps are not taken, or they haven’t been implemented properly, the potential impact of a breach can be significantly worse.
What are the effects of a personal data breach?
As you can see from the above examples, a data breach can happen in a wide variety of ways. And given the nature of the highly connected world we live in, we’re all at risk of having our personal data exposed.
The consequences of such exposure can be far-reaching – and the more sensitive the data, the worse the outcome can be. Broadly speaking, any personal data breach can lead to feelings of loss of control and anxiety about the potential impact. But if the data is related to a medical condition or a police matter, for example, this will likely be even more concerning.
And of course, if the information is extensive, or if it contains banking information, you could face significant financial consequences. Identity fraud is increasingly common, and can lead to issues such as loans or credit cards being taken out in your name.
Needless to say, it’s important to take personal data breaches seriously. That means safeguarding yourself as far as possible – and taking the appropriate steps if your data is exposed. Read our blog on how to respond to a data breach for more information.
Can I claim compensation for a personal data breach?
One of the key steps to consider if you’ve been a victim of a personal data breach is seeking compensation. The UK GDPR enshrines the right to claim compensation for anyone who has suffered damage as a result of a data breach.
It’s important to note that this damage can be material or non-material. Material damage refers to direct financial losses, while non-material damage is related to the distress that a data breach can cause, including anxiety and other mental health issues.
How much compensation could I be owed for a personal data breach?
The amount of compensation you can claim for a data breach depends on a variety of factors. Particularly important are the kind of data that was exposed and the consequences for you personally.
If the data was especially sensitive or if you suffered direct financial losses, you will likely be able to seek a larger amount of compensation. To get a sense of what you might be entitled to, why not take a look at some of our recent data breach claims on our case studies page?
HNK Solicitors can support your data breach claim
The prospect of seeking compensation in the aftermath of a personal data breach may seem overwhelming. It may be tempting to just try to put the situation behind you. But if you’ve been impacted by a data breach, compensation could be a key step toward recovering from the damage you experienced.
And it’s important to know that when it comes to making a compensation claim, you don’t need to go it alone. In fact, your best choice is to seek support from experienced data breach solicitors who can support your claim and give you the best chance of success.
Here at HNK Solicitors, we’ve helped many clients get the compensation they deserve following a personal data breach. Our highly experienced team can support you every step of the way, so you can focus on moving on with your life.
We offer free consultations, so if you’d like to discuss your case, get in touch today on 0151 668 0809, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.