A health trust that posted the private details of 6,574 members of staff on its website has been fined £185,000 by the ICO.

Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust inadvertently published workers’ confidential data including their National Insurance number, date of birth, religious belief and sexual orientation in March 2014.

The Trust failed to notice the mistake for 10 months and then took a further five months to alert affected staff.

Stephen Eckersley, Head of Enforcement at the ICO, said:

“This trust played fast and loose with the highly sensitive and private information that was entrusted to them. It seems they ignored their duty to put rules in place to protect staff who deliver hospital services to others.”

“Any measures taken to protect this information from reaching the public domain were woefully inadequate or non-existent. The fact that the error went unnoticed for so long beggars belief.”

The information was volunteered by staff as part of the Trust’s commitment to publish annual equality and diversity metrics on its website.

But the Trust failed to notice that the published spreadsheets also contained hidden data that became visible by simply double-clicking the table. This is how the personal details of individual members of staff were revealed.

Mr Eckersley said:

“There was a need for robust measures to safeguard against this kind of disclosure. I can see no good reason for that not happening and that is why we have taken action.”

The ICO’s blog “Now you don’t see it, now you do – the dangers of hidden data” was published in November 2015 alongside new guidance to give practical advice on what to look out for when providing information in different formats.

This is not the first time the ICO has fined an organisation for inadvertently publishing hidden data. Torbay NHS Trust (July 2012) and Islington Council (August 2013) both received penalties for similar mistakes.

 

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.
  1. 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.
  1. The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The ICO has the power to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
  1. 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; and
  • not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.
  1. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) sit alongside the Data Protection Act. They give people specific privacy rights in relation to electronic communications.

There are specific rules on:

  • marketing calls, emails, texts and faxes;
  • cookies (and similar technologies);
  • keeping communications services secure; and
  • customer privacy as regards traffic and location data, itemised billing, line identification, and directory listings.

We aim to help organisations comply with PECR and promote good practice by offering advice and guidance. We will take enforcement action against organisations that persistently ignore their obligations.

  1. Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
  1. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  1. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns