London’s worst council for data loss, report says

pic: coo (flickr)

Tower Hamlets Council is London’s worst offending authority for sensitive data loss according to research published this week by pressure group, Big Brother Watch.

Out of 132 local authorities in England, Tower Hamlets Council came eighth, having lost residents’ data in 31 separate incidents between August 2008 and August 2011. Data losses related to children in social care, housing benefits, youth offending data and more. However, only 18 of London’s local authorities responded. View the full report here.

The losses were as a result of 11 lost BlackBerry smartphones, four stolen or missing laptops and a missing hard disk. Out of the 31 incidents, two related to stolen laptops, where one included student data and the other contained the information of 150 people. The Information Commissioner’s Office was notified about the latter incidents, and the action for the other 29 was not revealed.

Speaking about the findings, Tower Hamlets Council said: “Every precaution is taken to prevent the loss and theft of laptops or USB devices.  The Council has taken steps to have such devices encrypted so that if a loss occurs data remains confidential and information can only be accessed by authorised personnel. Emails to central government, local government, the justice system and schools are [also] currently on secure networks.”

It added: “We take care in meeting our data protection obligations, including by recording incidents that occur. Every incident is registered and thoroughly investigated.”

Hackney Council was the only other EastLondonLines borough which gave information to Big Brother Watch. Croydon Council gave no response to the pressure group and Lewisham Council refused the FOI request “on grounds of Section 32 of FOIA” as related information is contained in court transcripts.

Information provided by Hackney Council to the pressure group showed there were nine separate incidents of data loss. Reasons for the incidents included missing laptops, a smartphone, a USB stick and files.

Big Brother Watch compiled the damning report on various local authorities via a Freedom of Information request from July onwards. Their report shows at least 1035 separate incidents of lost sensitive information in the country between August 2008 and Auguest 2011. The top joint-offenders were Buckinghamshire and Kent with 72 incidents.

Of the 1035 incidents, only 55 were reported to the ICO, while just nine incidents resulted in the termination of employment.

The ICO has called for new powers to carry out compulsory audits in the local government sector. An ICO spokesman said: “We’re calling for powers to conduct compulsory audits in the local government sector and will this week submit a formal business case to the Ministry of Justice asking the government to give us such powers.”

Additional reporting by Afzal Ahmed

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