A council has been fined £150,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for publishing sensitive personal information about a family.

Basildon Borough Council breached the Data Protection Act when it published the information in planning application documents which it made publicly available online.

The ICO’s investigation found that on 16 July 2015, the council received a written statement in support of a householder’s planning application for proposed works in a green belt. The statement contained sensitive personal data relating to a static traveller family who had been living on the site for many years. In particular, it referred to the family’s disability requirements, including mental health issues, the names of all the family members, their ages and the location of their home.

The council published the statement in full, without redacting the personal data, on its online planning portal later that day. The ICO investigation found that this was due to failings in data protection procedures and training. An inexperienced council officer did not notice the personal information in the statement, and there was no procedure in place for a second person to check it before the personal data was inadvertently published online. The information was only removed on 4 September 2015 when the concerns came to light. 

ICO Enforcement manager Sally Anne Poole said:

“This was a serious incident in which highly sensitive personal data, including medical information, was made publicly available. 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.”

Even though the council had been routinely redacting personal data from planning documents - a practice also widely adopted by other local authorities - Basildon subsequently argued it was not, in fact, allowed to do so under planning law.

That view was rejected by the ICO, which said planning regulations could not override people’s fundamental privacy and data protection rights. It added that publication of planning documents online was a choice, not a legal requirement.

Ms Poole added:

“Data protection law is clear and 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.”

 

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 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.
  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; and
    • not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  8. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.
  9. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law that will replace the Data Protection Act 1998 and will apply in the UK from 25 May 2018. The government has confirmed that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.