UK: Council loses personal details of children in care

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has undertaken to improve the security of personal data held on portable media devices following the loss of a USB memory stick containing sensitive personal information of 40 children in their care, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said today.

The ICO was made aware of this breach of the Data Protection Act after the memory stick, which was unencrypted and not password protected, was found by a member of the public in the Hanley area of the city before being returned to the council. Although there was a legitimate reason for the information being saved on the USB stick, the failure to encrypt it or use a password meant the information, which included court reports and details of care proceedings, was placed at unnecessary risk. The council has since taken steps to help ensure that personal data contained on portable devices is appropriately secured.

Sally Anne-Poole, Enforcement Group Manager at the ICO, said:

“When handling sensitive personal information, particularly information relating to the care of vulnerable children, it is important that authorities ensure the necessary measures are in place to protect this information.

“This incident occurred before 6 April so the powers now available to the Information Commissioner to issue penalties of up to £500,000 for serious breaches of the Data Protection Act, could not be considered.”

John van de Laarschot, Chief Executive, of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, has now signed a formal undertaking to ensure that portable and mobile devices used to store and transmit personal data are encrypted. Staff will also be made fully aware of the council’s policy for the storage of personal data and receive appropriate training on data protection and IT security issues.

A full copy of the undertaking can be viewed here: http://www.ico.gov.uk/what_we_cover/promoting_data_privacy/taking_action.aspx#undertakings

Source: Information Commissioner’s Office

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