The Information Commissioner has found St Albans City and District Council in breach of the Data Protection Act after laptops were stolen last year with the loss of 14,000 personal details.

The incident occurred when four laptops that contained the names, addresses and dates of birth of 14,673 people who applied for a postal vote for the June 2009 local election were stolen. Council spokesperson Claire Wainwright said at the time that the data was protected by two levels of security access and there was a slight risk that the data could be accessed.

It was later revealed that the personal information was password protected but unencrypted and remained on the laptop when it was no longer required. The ICO found at a later date that it was left unsecured on a desk until it was discovered missing on 5th November 2009, along with three other laptop computers belonging to the council.

Daniel Goodwin, CEO of St Albans City and District Council, has signed an undertaking to confirm that steps are taken to ensure staff and contractors are made fully aware of security procedures and adequate checks will be carried out on contractors' staff.

The council has also agreed to encrypt laptops and other portable devices used to store and transmit personal data and appropriate physical security measures are put in place to prevent unauthorised access to it.

Sally-Anne Poole, head of enforcement and investigations at the ICO, said: “When organisations store large volumes of personal details on portable computers, encryption is essential. They must ensure staff and contractors are trained to handle personal information securely to avoid the risk of information falling into the wrong hands.

“It is also crucial organisations don't keep personal information for longer than is necessary. I am pleased that St Albans City and District Council has taken comprehensive remedial action including informing a number of the residents affected by the breach.”

Dave Jevans, CEO of IronKey, said: “This report doesn't elaborate on the ‘two levels of security access' that ‘protect' the data on the stolen laptops. Clearly local government offices need much better training on data security best practices and enforcement.”