IT Systems and Data Protection

08.04.19

Newham Council leaked sensitive gang information months before wave of ‘serious gang violence’

The London Borough of Newham has been fined after it accidently revealed sensitive personal information on more than 200 suspected gang members which were acquired by rival gangs.

The council has been fined £145,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after it judged it “unnecessary, unfair and excessive” for the authority to share the information, when the risks of such sensitive information “should have been obvious.”

The accidental data breach occurred in early 2017, months before a wave of serious gang violence in Newham which included victims who were named in the breach.

The mayor of Newham previously apologised personally for the “profoundly regretful data breach” to the mother of a 14-year-old boy named in the matrix who died in September 2017.

The ICO investigation found that in January 2017, a Newham Council employee sent an email containing the unredacted version of a database known as the ‘Gangs Matrix’ to 44 recipients, which included external organisations.

The database had been sent to the council by the Metropolitan Police Service as part of its work with partners to tackle gang violence, and included detailed information on alleged gang members.

The breach saw the dates of birth, home addresses, offending records and alleged gang of 203 people shared, and between May and September 2017 rival gang members were able to obtain photographs of the information via Snapchat.

In 2017, Newham experienced a wave of “serious gang violence,” with some of the victims including people featured on the Gangs Matrix.

Whilst the ICO said it was not possible to say whether the data breach had resulted in the incidents, it highlighted the “significant harm and distress” that can be caused by the breach of sensitive personal information.

Newham Council said it had made a “serious administrative error,” accepted the gravity of the breach and said it deeply regrets that it happened.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said: “On behalf of Newham Council I accept the seriousness of the unredacted Gangs Matrix list being distributed on this single occasion in January 2017 and am sorry that it happened.”

She said the council had made changes to the management and processing of personal data to comply with data protection laws, with an “enhanced culture of safeguarding” across the organisation.

Deputy commissioner, James Dipple-Johnstone, commented: “Our investigation concluded that it was unnecessary, unfair and excessive for Newham Council to have shared the unredacted database with a large number of people and organisations, when a redacted version was readily available.

“The risks associated with such a transfer of sensitive information should have been obvious.”

Image credit - CribbVisuals

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