UK: Teenager’s personal details sent to wrong family

The Information Commissioner’s Office has found that Somerset County Council breached the Data Protection Act by sending a social service assessment about a local teenager to the wrong family.

The Council reported the breach to the ICO in February 2011, shortly after the incident took place. The ICO’s investigation found that the assessment – which had been prepared by the Council’s social services department – contained sensitive personal information relating to a teenager’s behavioral history and medical background.

The report was mistakenly sent out to the wrong family by a council employee who was handling two similar cases at the same time. The ICO also found that there were failings in the way the incident was handled by the Council. The recipient of the information was first told to throw it away before being advised that it would be collected by a council employee.

The council signed an undertaking to settle the complaint.

Clearly, this breach is not as “sexy” as huge data breaches involving millions of people, but it reminds us that every individual has sensitive or personal information that needs to be adequately protected by the custodians of the data. I am glad to see the ICO take such cases seriously and publish them. Here in the U.S., a breach of this kind, if reported to HHS under HIPAA and HITECH provisions, would not have been made public on HHS’s web site.

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