I blogged last week about “data breaches”, and the need to define and sometimes to differentiate between a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and a general data security breach. Well, I’m (not at all) pleased to say that today’s news of the latest monetary penalty notice (MPN) served by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on Kent Police doesn’t need any such nuanced analysis. Here was a data security breach which was also a manifest breach of the DPA.
A police officer, by chance, discovered in some premises video tapes clearly marked as police material. He subsequently ascertained that the owner had found them, and much more besides, in the basement of a former police station which he had purchased. It is difficut to think of more sensitive information than the kind which was involved here. In part it consisted of
documents and video/audio tapes containing confidential and highly sensitive personal data about a significant number of individuals. These included files relating to threats to kill, rape, grievous bodily harm and child abuse cases; interviews with victims, witnesses/informants and suspects
Although the force had initially
taken some steps to safeguard the information by carrying out inspections of the former police station which identified that items were still in situ
the failure to have any policies in place, or to assign responsibility to anyone, meant that this was a clear and serious contravention of the seventh data protection principle (relating to data security measures) of a kind likely to cause, at least, substantial distress. I would add, although the ICO does not, that it might well have been also a serious contravention of the fifth principle (“Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes”). Given this, it is somewhat surprising that this case falls (admittedly at the top end) into the lowest category of cases qualifying for an MPN (the ICO’s internal guidance says that these cases will attract an amount of £40,000 to £100,000). Bearing in mind that Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust got an MPN of £325,000 for failing to dispose of computer hard drives properly, this current MPN seems low.
It also, once again, draws attention to the importance of good records management within police forces. I wrote only recently, in the context of the Ellison Review of policing relating to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, about how records management is essential for the operation of the rule of law and the current case just gives even greater strength to this.