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Barnet and West Sussex breach DPA

Unencrypted USB, CDs AWOL with 9,000 kids' details

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The Information Commissioner's Office has taken action against Barnet and West Sussex councils after the theft of IT containing sensitive data about children.

The watchdog said that personal information about children had been lost by the two authorities because of a "systemic" lack of staff IT training. Both councils were found to have breached the Data Protection Act.

In the case of LB Barnet, an unencrypted, non-password protected USB stick and CDs containing sensitive personal information about more than 9,000 children and their families were stolen from the home of a staff member.

According to the ICO, the employee had downloaded the data onto the unencrypted devices without authorisation. But it was later discovered that Barnet provided neither training nor security to prevent such downloads.

Before the incident, the ICO had conducted an audit of the north London authority that highlighted a lack of staff training.

A similar incident occurred at West Sussex CC when a laptop with personal information about an unknown number of children involved in childcare proceedings was taken from the home of an employee.

Again the laptop was unencrypted and enquiries by the ICO revealed that the employee had received no formal training on data protection or IT security.

The ICO also found that more than 2,300 unencrypted laptops were likely to be in use across West Sussex's various services, although steps are now being taken to encrypt these.

Barnet and West Sussex have now signed formal agreements to ensure that staff will be made fully aware of their respective policies for the storage and use of personal data.

Furthermore, the authorities have undertaken to provide training on data protection and IT security and to ensure that portable devices used to store sensitive information are encrypted.

Sally-Anne Poole, enforcement group manager at the ICO, said: "These councils have shown a poor regard for the importance of protecting children's personal information.

"It is essential that councils ensure the correct preventative safeguards are in place when storing and transferring personal information, especially when it concerns sensitive information relating to children.

"A lack of awareness and training in data protection requirements can lead to personal information falling into the wrong hands."

This article was originally published at Kable.

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