Nursery School Loses Pupils’ Data… On Tape


The ICO has slammed a Wolverhampton nursery school which lost records on a tape

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has criticised Phoenix Nursery School in Wolverhampton for losing the details of 70 pupils and their parents or guardians.

What makes this incident stand out is the fact that unlike other recent losses on laptops and USB memory sticks, the schools’ lost was on something not everyone sees: a magnetic tape.

The school had it taped

The ICO was made aware of the loss in April and the device, which contained names and addresses, was never recovered.

The school used tape for backup, and kept a tape drive in its server, rotating two backup tapes. At any time, one tape was locked in the school’s safe, while the other was in the server.

The loss of the tape was discovered when the backup tapes were being rotated and, despite a thorough search of the school, it was never found. There were no other missing items and no sign of forced entry. The school does not know if the tape was deliberately stolen or hidden as a prank.

The school contracted all parents and guardians to advise them accordingly but the ICO found inadequacies in its data protection measures and made the school sign an undertaking to review and improve its security procedures and educate its staff about them.

The school favoured the use of tapes due to their high capacity and ease of storage, but online backup company Keepitsafe has criticised this decision.

Online the answer?

“Data left lying around on tape is an easy target for thieves – especially when it isn’t even encrypted,” said Eoin Blacklock, Managing Director at KeepItSafe, “Yes, the data on the tape may have been recovered, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t also fallen into the wrong hands – the tape has still been stolen and we may well see more repercussions down the line. This incident should act as a wake-up call to other schools – it’s simply unacceptable that information on children is left out for anyone to steal.”

“What’s more, it seems unreasonable to ask school staff to accept the responsibility of looking after this information – a much simpler solution would be to automate the process and back up to an encrypted service online,” he added.

This is not the first time that a school has attracted the attention of the ICO for failing to secure data about its pupils. In April, a teacher at the Freehold Community School in Oldham had their unencrypted laptop stolen from their car, exposing personal information of up to 90 students.

The ICO has also investigated claims that the education secretary Michael Gove was using Gmail to conduct government business and has also stressed the need for school children to learn how to protect their privacy online, especially on social networks.

Underlining the obsolescence of tape in January this year, EMC unveiled the world’s largest tape ball – 2m in diameter, weighing 600kg, and with a purely theoretical capacity of 8 Petabyte.

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