Third ICO fine in a week after sensitive information widely distributed by webmail

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has issued a third fine in two days to a council.

After fines were issued on Monday to Croydon Council (£100,000) and Norfolk County Council (£80,000) for separate cases of lost personal details, the ICO has now issued a fine of £80,000 to Cheshire East Council after an email with sensitive details was sent to the wrong person.

According to the ICO, the "serious" breach of the Data Protection Act occurred in May 2011 when a council employee was asked to alert local voluntary workers to a police force's concerns about an individual who was working in the area.

However, instead of sending an email via the council's secure system, the employee sent it to the local voluntary sector co-ordinator via her personal email account as the co-ordinator did not have access to the secure system.

The email contained the name and an alleged alias for the individual as well as information about the concerns the police had about him. This was forwarded by the co-ordinator to 100 intended recipients.

Also, as the email did not have any clear markings or advice on how it was to be treated, the recipients interpreted the wording of the message to mean that they too should forward the email to other voluntary workers. This meant that the email was sent to 180 unintended recipients; an attempt to recall the email led to 57 per cent of the recipients confirming that they had deleted the information.

Stephen Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO, said: “While we appreciate that it is vitally important for genuine concerns about individuals working in the voluntary sector to be circulated to relevant parties, a robust system must be put in place to ensure that information is appropriately managed and carefully disclosed.

“Cheshire East Council also failed to provide this particular employee with adequate data-protection training. The highly sensitive nature of the information and the need to restrict its circulation should have been made clear to all recipients.”

Sign up to our newsletters