ICO Slaps Stoke City Council With Hefty Data Breach Fine

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe’s Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Council gets massive fine after emails are sent to the wrong person,

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has told Stoke-on-Trent City Council to cough up £120,000 after a “serious breach” of the Data Protection Act.

Sensitive information on a child protection legal case was emailed to the wrong person back in December 2011.

A solicitor at the authority sent 11 emails to the wrong address, accidentally handing over highly sensitive information relating to the care of a child and the health of two adults and two other children to the wrong party.

Data breach fine

The solicitor was in breach of the council’s own guidance, which advised sending data over a secure network or with encryption. But, according to the ICO, the council failed to provide the legal department with encryption software and knew the team had to send emails to unsecure networks, hence why the fine was so large.

“If this data had been encrypted then the information would have stayed secure. Instead, the authority has received a significant penalty for failing to adopt what is a simple and widely used security measure,” said Stephen Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO.

“It is particularly worrying that a breach in 2010 highlighted similar concerns around encryption at the authority, but the issue was not properly resolved.”

At the time of publication, the Stoke-on-Trent City Council had not said whether it would appeal the fine, but did note the extra protections it had subsequently introduced.

“The council has gone through a transformation in its approach to IT security as well as a number of proactive steps mentioned above,” said Councillor Olwen Hamer, cabinet member for transformation and resources.

“We have also implemented a full and detailed information security training programme which included issuing staff with the do’s and don’ts rules. We will be keeping a very watchful eye on our information security to help prevent future data breaches.”

The news came just days after an exclusive report from TechWeekEurope found O2 had received more complaints regarding alleged data breaches than any other organisation in the UK.

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