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Foreign Office web security failed Data Protection Act, says info office

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The Foreign Office has promised (pdf) to keep data safer in future, after its website exposed the details of those seeking visas for entry into the UK. An investigation by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) found a breach of the Data Protection Act.

The ICO investigated the security breach that affected the UKvisas site in May. The site is run by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office. The ICO found that personal data belonging to visa applicants was visible by site visitors. This broke the Data Protection Act, said the ICO.

"Organisations have a duty under the Data Protection Act to keep our personal information secure," said Mick Gorrill, ICO assistant commissioner. "If organisations fail to take this responsibility seriously, they not only leave individuals vulnerable to identity theft but risk losing individuals’ confidence and trust."

The ICO said that the Foreign Office co-operated with its investigation and provided the Commissioner with an independently produced report on the matter.

The Foreign Office has promised to close the website it was using and replace it with another, as well as to audit the procedures used. It also promised to undertake a strategic review of data processing.

"The data controller shall, as from the date of this undertaking and for so long as similar standards are required by the Act or other successor legislation from other data controllers in similar circumstances, ensure that personal data is processed in accordance with the Seventh Data Protection Principle," said the undertaking signed by the Foreign Office. The seventh data protection principle demands security for people's information.

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