UK regulator hits Marriott with £99m data breach fine

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) plans to fine hotel chain Marriott International £99m for general data protection regulation (GDPR) infringements, just days after a record-breaking £183m fine for British Airways over a privacy breach

The proposed fine of £99,200,396 relates to a cyber incident which was notified to the ICO by Marriott in November 2018. A variety of personal data contained in approximately 339m guest records globally were exposed by the incident, of which around 30m related to residents of 31 countries in the European Economic Area (EEA). Seven million related to UK residents.

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.

Elizabeth Denham, information commissioner, 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.’

Marriott has co-operated with the ICO investigation and has made improvements to its security arrangements since these events came to light. The Starwood guest reservation database that was attacked is no longer used for business operations.

The company will now have an opportunity to make representations to the ICO as to the proposed findings and sanction, and has indicated it intends to respond and vigorously defend its position.

Arne Sorenson, Marriott International’s president and CEO, said:  ‘We are disappointed with this notice of intent from the ICO, which we will contest.  Marriott has been cooperating with the ICO throughout its investigation into the incident, which involved a criminal attack against the Starwood guest reservation database.

‘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.’

The ICO has been investigating this case as lead supervisory authority on behalf of other EU member state data protection authorities. It 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.

Pat Sweet 

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