As we begin a new year we have taken a look back at some of the top technology law stories from 2013 and look forward to what we can expect and should be aware of in 2014.

What happened in 2013?

First penalty issued under Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations

In March 2013, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) issued a fine of £90,000 to Cumbernauld based DM Design for making nuisance marketing calls.  Part of the allegations against them included consistent failure to check whether individuals had opted out of receiving marketing calls (as required under the PECR), and abusive behaviour. In one instance an employee refused to remove a complainant’s details from the company's database and threatened to “continue to call at more inconvenient times like Sunday lunchtime”.

First charge brought by the Serious Fraud Office under Bribery Act 2010 sections 1 and 2

In August 2013, the Serious Fraud Office brought charges against 3 individuals for making and accepting a financial advantage contrary to sections 1 and 2 of the Bribery Act 2010.

High Court bans TV catch-up from streaming broadcasts content over mobile networks

In 2013 3 UK broadcasters won the right to prevent TV Catch-up, an online streaming service provider, from retransmitting TV programmes shown to users of mobile devices. However the High Court in England ruled that TV Catch up was not restrained from retransmitting ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 programmes to an audience over the internet.

TVCatchup retransmits free-to-air channels over the internet on authority granted under section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (“the Act”), which allows for the retransmission of ‘qualifying services’.  S.73 of the Act permits the unlicensed retransmission of broadcasts over a cable network or of a regional or national Channel 3 service, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C.

First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) overturns £250,000 ICO fine

In August 2013, Scottish Borders Council appealed against a £250,000 fine issued by the Information Commissioner for breaching the Data Protection Act which occurred after pension records were found in a supermarket recycling bin.

It was held that this was a serious contravention of the Data Protection Act however although serious the breach was not likely to cause damage or distress. The penalty was overturned.

Freedom of Information Failures

The Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew, launched her Annual Report on 1 October 2013.  Speaking at the launch she expressed concern over an increasing failure on the part of Scottish public authorities to respond to freedom of information (FOI) requests on time. The Annual Report showed a 14% rise in appeals to the Scottish Information Commissioner’s Office in 2012/2013.  Over a quarter of those appeals related to the failure by public authorities to respond to FOI requests.

The Annual Report coincided with new research carried out showing that only 49% of the Scottish public are confident they will receive a response to their FOI request within 20 working days and only 10% were “very confident” of a response within this timescale.

Bank of Scotland fine

In 2013 Bank of Scotland was landed with the largest Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) fine levied against a financial institution for repeatedly faxing sensitive customer documents to the wrong recipients.

In a three year period Bank of Scotland was warned various times about its “commercial blunder” after numerous documents were sent to random third parties. Bank of Scotland put the failings down to human error and intimated that only 32 customers were affected but a £75,000 fine was levied.

Image Rights

In November 2013 a photographer won a landmark legal battle with retailer Next, after his picture of a stunt biker was taken off the internet, adapted and printed on children’s t-shirts without his permission.

A supplier for the high street chain found the original picture on the internet and took it without seeking the photographer’s permission. Next accepted the photographer’s ownership of the photograph and agreed to pay undisclosed damages. The remaining t-shirts in stock were sent to Oxfam to help their overseas work.

In addition earlier in 2013 Rihanna won a permanent ban on Topshop selling t-shirts using her image. Sir Philip Green’s high street chain was ordered to pay her estimated legal costs of almost £1 million.

What can we expect in 2014?

Bring You Own Device

A survey before Christmas showed that 60% of the UK population now own a smart phone and 20% a tablet and an increasing number want to use these personal devices at work. Known as “Bring Your Own Device” this trend has many benefits such as increased efficiency, flexibility and employee morale. However it also carries a number of risks that organisations should consider and safeguard against e.g. loss of the devices and the information stored on them.

Cloud Computing

The number of services offering ‘cloud based storage’ allowing organisations as well as individuals to upload documents, photos, videos and other files to a website to share with others or to act as back up continues to increase.   Data can then accessed from any location or any type of device (laptop, mobile phone, tablet etc). Organisation using cloud based services should be aware of the dangers of uploading personal information to cloud services and take appropriate steps to protect their information.

Threat Provisions

The Law Commission has suggested that it would like to reform the “threat provisions” contained in UK Intellectual Property Rights legislation after identifying problems with the current regime. Currently companies can launch legal proceedings against rights holders where they believe threats of legal action against them are groundless.

Data Protection Regulation

A new Data Protection Regulation is being contemplated which would see a single framework of data protection apply throughout the EU. Currently the EU Data Protection Directive is applied inconsistently across the Member States. The European Commission is seeking to promote harmonisations and bring data protection law up to date for the digital age.  Although there is still much work to be done, 2014 could see the adoption of the new Regulation. 

Trade Secrets

Currently a patchwork of different national rules governing trade secrets operates throughout Europe. However, a draft Trade Secret Directive proposed by the European Commission seeks to harmonise the position in the EU.  2014 may see this proposal advance.