The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has lambasted Lancashire Police Authority for publishing the details of an individual's complaint on its web site and failing promptly to remove the information when informed of the issue.
Details of the complaint made to the force were put online without removing key information that protected the identity of the individual. The authority was made aware of the mistake, but took four days to remove it.
Simon Entwisle, director of operations at the ICO, said that the watchdog was unimpressed by the slow response, and that the case should remind all organisations that individuals' rights to privacy are paramount.
"There can be no excuse for publishing someone's personal information online, and the fact that the authority failed to remove it when told makes this case all the more concerning," he said.
"While it is important that public authorities are transparent about the work they do by publishing information online, this should never be at the expense of an individual's rights to privacy."
Lancashire Police Authority has signed an undertaking with the ICO to check and correctly redact any information due for release on the authority's site before it is made available.
It has also agreed to introduce a new policy for staff explaining the actions they must take when informed of a possible data breach.
Entwisle added that he hoped the case would "act as a warning" to other public authorities that information security is a key priority and that staff training is vital.
The public sector frequently feels the wrath of the ICO. The NHS has come in for particular criticism for its repeated data breach failings, while four councils have been fined for data handling errors.
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