The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

Laptop thefts highlight the need for encryption

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News release: 5 October 2011


Two organisations have taken action after they breached the Data Protection Act by failing to encrypt personal information on laptops that were later stolen, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said today.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) breached the Data Protection Act in May 2011 when a laptop - containing sensitive personal data - was stolen from an employee’s home in Yorkshire. The ICO’s enquiries found that, while the laptop had encryption software installed on it, the decision on whether to encrypt individual documents was left to the employee. At the time of the theft the laptop included unencrypted personal information relating to approximately 100 individuals, including details of their membership of the union and in some cases, details of their physical or mental health.

Laptop thefts highlight the need for encryptionIn a similar incident, Holly Park School in Barnet breached the Act when an unencrypted laptop was stolen from an unlocked office at the school on 1 May. The device contained details of pupils’ names, addresses, exam marks and some limited information relating to their health. After investigating the breach the ICO also discovered that the school had no data protection policy in place at the time of the theft.

Acting Head of Enforcement, Sally Anne Poole said:

“The ICO’s guidance is clear: all personal information – the loss of which is liable to cause individuals damage and distress - must be encrypted. This is one of the most basic security measures and is not expensive to put in place - yet we continue to see incidents being reported to us. This type of breach is inexcusable and is putting people’s personal information at risk unnecessarily.

“We are pleased that the Association of School and College Leaders and Holly Park School have taken action to make sure the personal information they collect remains secure.”

Both organisations have now taken action to make sure the personal information they handle is protected. This includes ensuring that portable devices used to store personal data – including laptops - are appropriately encrypted. Both organisations will also introduce adequate checks to make sure their employees are following policies and procedures governing the secure use of personal information.

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The ICO has produced guidance on the security measures that organisations should have in place when storing personal information electronically.

 

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  3. The ICO is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and produces a monthly e-newsletter. Our For the media page provides more information for journalists.
  4. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:
    - Fairly and lawfully processed
    - Processed for limited purposes
    - Adequate, relevant and not excessive
    - Accurate and up to date
    - Not kept for longer than is necessary
    - Processed in line with your rights
    - Secure
    - Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection

If you need more information, please contact the ICO press office on 0303 123 9070 or ico.gov.uk/press