Six fines issued for data breaches


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The Independent Online

Six public bodies were fined over personal data security breaches in the last year despite hundreds of reported cases, a report said today.

One of the biggest penalties went to Midlothian Council as it was fined £140,000 for sending details on children and their carers to the wrong people five times within 12 months.

Some 281 of the 730 reported breaches were a result of human error, with emails being sent by mistake and documents being sent to the wrong address, figures from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) showed.

A further 170 were due to data or hardware being stolen and another 108 were as a result of it being lost.

The figures, published by security firm ViaSat following a Freedom of Information Act request, also found 433 of the reported cases had yet to be decided.

Overall, staff in private firms appeared to be the worst offenders, accounting for more than a third (263) of reported breaches between between March 22 last year and February 17.

Healthcare providers including the NHS were responsible for 178 reported breaches, while councils and other local government organisations reported 166.

But the ViaSat report said that of the 297 cases reported and resolved within the time period, just six resulted in fines.

These included Midlothian Council, where children's social service reports were sent to the wrong recipients between January and June last year, causing "serious upset" to children's families.

The ICO's investigation found that all five breaches could have been avoided if the council had put adequate data protection policies, training and checks in place.

The council said at the time there was no evidence anyone had been put at risk and it "immediately took steps to retrieve the information, or have it destroyed, and voluntarily reported ourselves to the Information Commissioner".

No private firms or healthcare providers were fined.

A further 32 reports led to undertakings being signed and 259 resulted in neither fines nor undertakings.

Chris McIntosh, of ViaSat, said: "It is wholly disconcerting that those data breaches which should be easily avoidable are now the most commonplace.

"While the message on data protection may be getting through to the heads of organisations, there is no point in having these measures in place if workers don't follow them."

An ICO spokesman said: "Civil monetary penalties (CMPs) are part of a range of options that we use to protect the privacy rights of individuals, and ensure that organisations comply with the Data Protection Act (DPA).

"We can only issue CMPs where strict criteria are met - where the breach has caused substantial damage or distress to individuals or has the potential to do so, and in instances where the organisation was, or should have been, aware of the risk of a breach and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it.

"We will always consider a CMP whenever these criteria are met, regardless of the sector the organisation falls into."

He went on: "Effective regulation is about getting the best result in the public interest.

"There are several types of enforcement action we can take, all of which help drive compliance with the DPA. The course we choose will always depend on the circumstances of the individual case."