Councils’ data handling is ‘shockingly lax’, says campaigners

11 Aug 15

More than 4,000 data lapses occurred in UK councils in the three years to 2014, according to research from privacy campaigners Big Brother Watch.

The research, obtained from Freedom of Information requests, uncovered 401 instances of data loss or theft, 628 instances of inappropriate date being shared on emails, letters of faxes and 197 mobile phones, tablets, computers and USBs being lost of stolen. Children’s information was involved in breaches on 658 occasions.

One in ten data breaches resulted in disciplinary action. There were 39 resignations, 50 dismissals and one court case.

Among the specific examples highlighted in the report were inappropriate use of CCTV at Cheshire East council where a CCTV operator watched part of a colleague’s wedding. At Lewisham Council in London, a social worker left papers on a train including personal and sensitive data relating to 10 children. The individual involved subsequently resigned during disciplinary procedures.

Commenting on the findings, Big Brother Watch director Emma Carr said: “Despite local councils being trusted with increasing amounts of our personal data, this report highlights that they are simply not able to say it is safe with them.

“A number of examples show shockingly lax attitudes to protecting confidential information. For so many children and young people to have had their personal information compromised is deeply disturbing.

“With only a tint fraction of staff being disciplined or dismissed, this raises the question of how seriously local councils take protecting the privacy of the public.”

Carr called for better training and reporting procedures to be implemented in councils. Harsher penalties for offenders should also be introduced, including criminal records and custodial sentences.

“Until we see these policies implemented, the public will simply not be able to trust local councils with their data,” she said.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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