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Public sector squanders £2m due to data leaks

05 Nov 2012
Money - pound coins

Public sector organisations including the police, NHS and councils have had to pay out £2m in fines as a result of poor data handling practices over the past 18 months.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) was given the ability to levy penalties of a maximum of £500,000 in April 2011 in an effort to make organisations place more importance on ensuring data is securely retained and managed.

However, police forces, NHS Trusts and councils have repeatedly been penalised by the ICO for poor handling of data, with unencrypted USB sticks, misdirected emails and a failure to wipe and erase hard drives among the basic mistakes resulting in fines.

This has seen fines totalling £2,032,000 now levied from the public sector, the ICO confirmed to V3.

"The monetary penalties we issue could have been prevented if adequate measures and safeguards had been in place," Simon Entwisle, director of operations at the ICO, told V3.

"Our concern isn't just about having the right policies and procedures in place, but around bringing about a culture among staff whereby everyone takes their responsibilities seriously and effective data handling becomes second nature."

This total will soon increase after Stoke-on-Trent City Council was hit with a £120,000 penalty when a member of staff emailed sensitive information relating to a child protection case to the wrong person.

Such needless expense at a time when many public-sector organisations are having their budgets slashed is a cause of great frustration said John O'Connell, a research director at The TaxPayers' Alliance.

"Local authorities and other public sector bodies must improve on how they handle sensitive data to reduce these significant fines," he said.

"Necessary spending cuts have to be made, so it's crucial to eradicate as much waste as possible from public sector budgets to ensure frontline services continue to be provided.

"Taxpayers don't want their hard-earned cash spent on fines even if the money finds its way back into central funds, because a significant amount will be lost along the way in bureaucratic churn."

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Dan Worth

Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal

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