Council fined £150,000 after family’s sensitive data published online for six weeks

A council in Essex has been fined £150,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after it published sensitive information about a family.

Basildon Borough Council was found guilty of breaching the Data Protection Act when it published personal information about a family in planning documents which were visible on the authority’s site.

Investigators discovered that on 16 July 2015, council staff received a written statement in support of a householder’s planning application for works in a green belt.

However, the statement contained sensitive personal data relating to a traveller family who had been living on the site for many years.

More shockingly, the document revealed information about the family’s disability requirements, their mental health issues as well as their names, ages and the location of their home.

The statement, including all the sensitive data, was published on Basildon’s planning portal, and the ICO workers also found that this was due to failings in data protection, procedures and training. And it was also found that the council did not take the information down until the 4 September 2015, meaning it was live on the Basildon site for over six weeks before being removed.

“This was a serious incident in which highly sensitive personal data, including medical information, was made publicly available,” said ICO enforcement manager Sally Anne Poole. “Planning applications in themselves can be controversial and emotive, so to include such sensitive information and leave it out there for all to see for several weeks is simply unacceptable.”

Poole stated that the law around data protection was clear, adding that planning regulations don’t remove an individual’s rights.

“Local authorities and, indeed, all organisations must be certain that their internal processes and procedures are robust and secure enough to ensure that people’s sensitive personal information is protected,” she concluded.

A Basildon Council spokesman said: "The authority has been given 28 days in which to lodge an appeal against this decision. “We are taking advice and considering our position." 

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Steve Parish   13/06/2017 at 16:53

Is this material that the applicants had themselves put forward to justify development in the green belt? If so I'm not sure how you'd balance data protection with ano open process of determining exceptional circumstances. I'm amazed at plans committee how free people can be in a public meeting about their medical needs.

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