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Printer jam lands Plymouth Council with £60,000 ICO fine

23 Nov 2012
The Tamar Bridge in Plymouth

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has hit Plymouth City Council with a fine of £60,000 after a printing mix-up saw sensitive data about a family in the area sent to another resident by mistake.

The issue occurred when a printer jam caused a member of staff to unintentionally pick up two reports that had been printed - after another member of staff had given up waiting for their report to print - and include them both in an envelope sent to the recipient.

When that resident received the report and on realising the error, they contacted the council. They also contacted the family affected via a social networking site, the ICO noted, telling them what had happened.

A subsequent audit of the council's working practices found the incident was a result of a failure to, "incorporate an adequate level of checks in order to ensure the documents were being sent to the correct recipient".

A review of the printer in use at the council in the wake of the incident also led to the revelation that over a 15-minute period one of the printers in the Children's Services department was in constant use by up to five members of staff, during which time it jammed on six occasions.

As such the ICO said it was clear that the issues was not solely down to human error and warned that "unless steps were taken to rectify this, a similar incident could happen again".

As a result the ICO felt it was merited in issuing the fine.

"It would be too easy to consider this a simple human error. The reality is that this incident happened because not enough care was being taken within the organisation when handling vulnerable people's sensitive information," said ICO head of enforcement, Stephen Eckersley.

"The distress this incident will have caused the people involved is obvious, and the penalty we have issued today reflects that."

A spokeswoman for Plymouth City Council confirmed all the sensitive information involved had been recovered and destroyed, and new checks had been put in place to stop such an incident occurring again.

"[These] include secure PIN printing so that reports are only printed when staff activate the printer with their code, which reduces the risk of papers being mixed up," she said.

"Extra checks before sensitive documents are dispatched from the office are also being devised."

The fine is just the latest in a long line levied against the public sector, which V3 revealed earlier this month had passed the £2m mark since April 2010.

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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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