Notts County Council fined £70,000 for posting vulnerable people’s personal information online

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A council has been fined £70,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for leaving vulnerable people’s personal information exposed online for five years.

The Data Protection Act requires organisations to take appropriate measures to keep personal data secure, especially when dealing with sensitive information. But Nottinghamshire County Council posted the gender, addresses, postcodes and care requirements of elderly and disabled people in an online directory which didn’t have basic security or access restrictions such as a username or password.

The matter was only discovered when a member of the public using a search engine was inadvertently able to access and view the data with no need to log in, and was concerned that it could be used by criminals to target vulnerable people or their homes – especially as it even revealed whether or not they were still in hospital.

ICO Head of Enforcement Steve Eckersley said: “This was a serious and prolonged breach of the law. For no good reason, the council overlooked the need to put robust measures in place to protect people’s personal information, despite having the financial and staffing resources available.

“Given the sensitive nature of the personal data and the vulnerability of the people involved, this was totally unacceptable and inexcusable. Organisations need to understand that they have to treat the security of data as seriously as they take the security of their premises or their finances.”

The council had launched its ‘Home Care Allocation System’ (HCAS), an online portal allowing social care providers to confirm that they had capacity to support a particular service user, in July 2011. When the breach was reported in June 2016, the HCAS system contained a directory of 81 service users. It is understood the data of 3,000 people had been posted in the five years the system was online.

The data exposed included people’s gender, addresses and post codes, personal care needs and requirements such as the number of home visits per day, and whether they had been or were still in hospital. Although the service user’s names were not included, a determined person would be able to identify them. The council offered no mitigation to the ICO.

Caroline Baria, adult social care service director at Nottinghamshire County Council, said: “Nottinghamshire County Council takes its responsibility for data security extremely seriously so we are very sorry that this error occurred and wholeheartedly accept the Information Commissioner’s findings.

“As soon as this matter came to our attention we removed the home care directory from the internet and reported the incident to the Commissioner.

“At the time the directory included partial addresses and a brief outline of the care needs of 81 people who have required home care services, but the information did not contain any names or house numbers.

“A full review of procedures has been carried out and we are now using a different system for home care providers outside of the internet.”