Data loss epidemic at UK local authorities

By Gareth Morgan
23 Nov 2011 View Comments
USB memory stick

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by privacy campaigners Big Brother Watch have highlighted an epidemic of data loss at local councils across the UK, with 132 local authorities admitting to losing sensitive data over the past three years.

Buckinghamshire County Council and Kent County Council were the worst offenders, each acknowledging that 72 data loss incidents took place between August 2008 and August 2011.

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Some incidents were more serious than others. At least 35 councils lost information about children in their care.

In one case, scanned notes relating to children were found on Facebook.

“Despite having access to increasing amounts of data and being responsible for even more services, local authorities are simply not able to say our personal information is safe with them,” said Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch.

According to Big Brother Watch, just 55 of the incidents uncovered had been reported to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

“There is a clear need for the ICO to have the power to audit organisations without needing consent to ensure it is fully aware of data protection breaches," said Pickles.

Earlier this year, the ICO spoke out against the organisations that are ignoring its offer to conduct voluntary data inspections.

Big Brother Watch sent FOI requests to 395 local authorities, getting responses from 360. In total, these responses uncovered more than 1,000 data loss incidents taking place during the three years covered by the request.

These incidents included the losses of 244 laptops and portable computers, 98 memory sticks and 93 mobile devices.

Some 263 local authorities reported that they had seen no incidents of data loss, “which seems surprising given the scale of loss in other authorities and the private sector,” added Pickles.

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