Updated: Data watchdog to investigate Barclays bank

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has launched an investigation into Barclays bank following alleged breaches of customer privacy exposed in a recent television programme.

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The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has launched an investigation into Barclays bank following alleged breaches of customer privacy exposed in a recent television programme.

The BBC Whistleblower programme reported the findings of a nine-month investigation by two undercover journalists, focusing on working practices at Barclays' customer call centres.

The ICO will look at whether policies and procedures covering direct marketing and access to customers' accounts have been broken, after the BBC alleged that bank employees had lied to make a sale, that customers had been misled and that there were serious flaws in security and fraudsters at work.

The data watchdog has requested that Barclays supply the results of its internal inquiry into the matters raised by the BBC, a copy of its procedures governing telephone sales and an explanation of why these rules appeared to have been broken by call centre staff.

The investigation will examine whether Barclays has breached the 1998 Data Protection Act or the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

The ICO highlighted a number of issues raised in the BBC programme that it would look into as part of the investigation.

  • One staff trainer told employees to ignore the wishes of customers who had stated that they did not wish to receive sales information or be contacted by telephone.
  • Call centre marketing staff were told to identify themselves as “account consultants” when speaking to customers, rather “sales adviser” – their usual job title.
  • Call centre staff accessed customers' accounts without a valid reason.

Mick Gorrill, head of the regulatory action division at the ICO, said: "Organisations which process customers' personal information have a duty to follow the eight principles of the Data Protection Act and comply with the PECR.”

He added: “Making sales calls to people who have expressly asked not to be contacted, is totally unacceptable. We have asked Barclays Bank to provide a range of information to help with our investigation. We will report publicly on this investigation once it is completed."

A Barclays spokesperson said: "We take the allegations made by the programme very seriously and are conducting our own internal investigation. Where there has been improper behaviour, we will take action to improve what we do. Of course we will also fully cooperate with the information commissioner."

Earlier this week, Barclays announced that it will buy Dutch bank ABN Amro in a €67bn (£45.4bn) deal. The merger will spark a huge IT integration project and see 23,600 jobs either axed or offshored.

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