Gloucestershire Police has been fined £80,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after sending a bulk email that identified victims of non-recent child abuse.
The force was at the time investigating allegations of abuse relating to multiple victims. On 19 December 2016, an officer sent an update on the case to 56 recipients by email but entered their email addresses in the ‘To’ field and did not activate the ‘BCC’ function, which would have prevented their details from being shared with others.
Each recipient of the e-mail – which potentially included victims, witnesses, lawyers and journalists - could see the full names and e-mail addresses of all the others. The email also made reference to schools and other organisations being investigated in relation to the abuse allegations.
Of the 56 emails sent, all but one was considered deliverable. Three were confirmed to have been successfully recalled once the force identified the breach two days later, so 56 names and email addresses were visible to up to 52 recipients.
ICO Head of Enforcement Steve Eckersley said:
“This was a serious breach of the data protection laws and one which was likely to cause substantial distress to vulnerable victims of abuse, many of whom were also legally entitled to lifelong anonymity.
“The risks relating to the sending of bulk emails are long established and well known, so there was no excuse for the force to break the law – especially when such sensitive and confidential information was involved.”
The case was dealt with under the provisions and maximum penalties of the Data Protection Act 1998, and not the 2018 Act which has replaced it, because of the date of the breach.
Notes to Editors
- The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
- The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
- The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law which applies in the UK from 25 May 2018. Its provisions are included in the Data Protection Act 2018. The Act also includes measures related to wider data protection reforms in areas not covered by GDPR, such as law enforcement and security. The UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.
- 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 under the Data Protection Act 2018 to impose a civil monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £17million (20m Euro) or 4% of global turnover. Under the 1998 Act, the maximum financial penalty is £500,000.
- Under the GDPR, the data protection principles set out the main responsibilities for organisations. Article 5 of the GDPR requires that personal data shall be:
- Processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to individuals;
- Collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes;
- Adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed;
- Accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date;
- Kept in a form which permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary; and
- Processed using appropriate technical or organisational measures in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data.
Article 5(2) requires that “the controller shall be responsible for, and be able to demonstrate, compliance with the principles.”
- A limited number of civil and criminal enforcement cases – including this case - are still being dealt with under the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 because of the date the breach of the legislation occurred. The maximum penalty in those cases is £500,000.
- 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.
- Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by ICO.
- To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.