NI Department of Justice fined for data breach

BBC reports:

Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice has been fined £185,000 for auctioning off a filing cabinet that contained personal information about victims of a terrorist attack.

The locked cabinet was one of 59 sold off by the Compensation Agency in 2012.

When the buyer forced it open, they found it contained documents about injuries suffered, family details, and confidential ministerial advice.

Read more on BBC.  The Information Commissioner’s Office issued the following statement:

A Government department has been fined after a filing cabinet that contained personal information relating to victims of a terrorist incident was sold at an auction.

The files included in the cabinet contained information about the injuries suffered, family details and the amount of compensation offered, as well as confidential ministerial advice.

After an ICO investigation, a civil monetary penalty of £185,000 was issued to Department of Justice Northern Ireland (DoJ NI) for what was described as a very serious data breach.

The incident occurred when the Compensation Agency Northern Ireland, which falls under the control of DoJ NI, moved offices in February 2012.

Staff did not realise the locked cabinet contained sensitive information, and it was earmarked for auction alongside other unwanted office furniture. It was sold, without a key, to a member of the public in May 2012.

When the buyer forced the lock he found papers dating from the 1970s through to 2005. The buyer immediately contacted the Police Service Northern Ireland who returned the papers to the Compensation Agency.

While there was an expectation within the agency that personal data would be handled securely, the ICO investigation found limited instructions to staff on what this meant in practice, despite the highly sensitive information the office held.

ICO Assistant Commissioner for Northern Ireland, Ken Macdonald, said: “This is clearly a very serious case. While failing to check the contents of a filing cabinet before selling it may seem careless, the nature of the information typically held by this organisation made the error all the more concerning.

“The distress that could have been caused to victims and their families had this fallen into the wrong hands is self-evident.”

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