Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Data abuse ‘has gone on for years’ say insiders as Scottish Borders Council fined £250K after pension records found in car park recycle bin

sbclogoScottish Borders Council has been issued a substantial fine by the Information Commissioner Scottish Borders Council, the south of Scotland local authority which finds itself in £262 Million worth of debt after years of abusing public finances, has been issued a £250,000 fine by the Information Commissioner's Office after records of staff pensions were found in a paper recycle bank located in a supermarket car park.

While the ICO’s fine relates to the single breach reported in it’s Press Release, SBC insiders have privately acknowledged there is “widespread abuse of data protection legislation within the council”.

The ICO Press Release :

Council fined £250,000 after employee records found in supermarket car park recycle bin

A Council whose former employees’ pension records were found in an over-filled paper recycle bank in a supermarket car park have been fined £250,000 for the data breach.

Scottish Borders Council employed an outside company to digitise the records, but failed to seek appropriate guarantees on how the personal data would be kept secure.

That prompted the Information Commissioner to use his powers under the Data Protection Act to impose a Civil Monetary Penalty of £250,000 on the Council.

The Data Protection Act requires that, if you decide to use another organisation to process personal data for you, you remain legally responsible for the security of the data and for protecting the rights of the individuals whose data is being processed.

But Scottish Borders Council put no contract in place with the third party processor, sought no guarantees on the technical and organisational security protecting the records and did not make sufficient attempts to monitor how the data was being handled.

It is believed more than 600 files were deposited at the recycle bins, containing confidential information and, in a significant number of cases, salary and bank account details. The files were spotted by a member of the public who called police, prompting the recovery of 676 files. A further 172 files deposited on the same day but at a different paper recycling bank are thought to have been destroyed in the recycling process.

Ken Macdonald, ICO Assistant Commissioner for Scotland, said: “This is a classic case of an organisation taking its eye off the ball when it came to outsourcing. When the Council decided to contract out the digitising of these records, they handed large volumes of confidential information to an outside company without performing sufficient checks on how securely the information would be kept, and without even putting a contract in place.

“It is only good fortune that these records were found by someone sensible enough to call the police. It is easy to imagine other circumstances where this information could have exposed people to identity fraud and possible financial loss through no fault of their own.

“If one positive can come out of this, it is that other organisations realise the importance of properly managing third parties who process personal data. The Data Protection Act is very clear where the responsibility for the security of that information remains, and what penalties await those who do not comply with the law.”

For practical advice on this topic, read the ICO's guidance 'Outsourcing: A guide for small and medium-sized businesses'

Businesses can follow these top tips to make sure they keep personal data safe when outsourcing:

  • Always select a reputable organisation to work with
  • Make sure the organisation has appropriate data security measures in place, including how it disposes of data
  • And make sure the organisation has appropriate security checks on staff too
  • Put a clear, enforceable contract in place
  • Make sure that contract requires the contractor to report any security breaches or other problems to you, and have procedures in place on how you will act if problems are reported
  • If you are going to transfer personal data outside of the European Economic Area, make sure you’re doing so in line with Data Protection Act 1998.

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