UK: Lancashire Constabulary receives penalty after loss of missing person’s report

A breach that was reported on this blog last July has resulted in a fine and an undertaking for the Lancashire constabulary.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has served a monetary penalty of £70,000 to Lancashire Constabulary after papers containing sensitive information about a 15 year old girl were found on a street in Blackpool. This is the first penalty the ICO has served to a police force.

The information was contained in a missing person’s report which was discovered by a member of the public on 23 July 2011. The report had previously been used by an officer trying to locate the missing youth and is thought to have been left in a police vehicle, where it lay undiscovered for several days. It is then believed the report fell out of the car, when it was used by a different officer to attend the scene of an incident on 22 July 2011.

The document included details of the girl’s age, address, contact information and sexuality, as well as mentioning that she’d previously been raped. Personal details relating to 14 other individuals – including the girl’s original attacker – were also included in the report.

The report was handed in to a local newspaper who published an anonymised story about the incident.

Steve Eckersley, Head of Enforcement said:

“The fact that information as sensitive as this could go missing without anybody realising is extremely worrying, and shows that Lancashire Constabulary failed to have the necessary governance, policies and suitable training in place to keep the personal information they handle secure.

“The loss of this information and the news that it had been leaked to a local newspaper is likely to have been extremely distressing for all involved.

“While we are pleased that Lancashire Constabulary has agreed to take action to make sure people’s information is safe, it is vitally important that police forces have effective data protection policies in place for electronic and paper based systems, if they are to operate with the trust and confidence of the public they serve. This includes keeping a record of where personal information is being stored and used.”

The ICO’s investigation found that the Constabulary did not record when sensitive personal information was taken outside of the police station. Officers were not provided with secure bags for storing personal information and received no specific training on how to look after hard copy documents outside the station.

Lancashire Constabulary has now signed an undertaking committing the organisation to take action to keep the personal information it handles secure. This includes ensuring that a written policy is in place detailing employees’ specific responsibilities when removing personal data from the station, as well as its subsequent use, protection and return. The Constabulary will also make sure that its staff are fully informed of these new changes and receive training on how to follow them.

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