By Ben Simmons

Cheshire East Council has been fined £80,000 for ignoring security protocol when emailing personal information, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has said.

The serious breach of the Data Protection Act occurred in May 2011 when a council employee was asked to contact the local voluntary sector co-ordinator to alert local voluntary workers to a police force’s concerns about an individual who was working in the area.

“While we appreciate that it is vitally important for genuine concerns about individuals working in the voluntary sector to be circulated to relevant parties, a robust system must be put in place to ensure that information is appropriately managed and carefully disclosed,” commented Stephen Eckersley, Head of Enforcement.

“Cheshire East Council also failed to provide this particular employee with adequate data protection training. The highly sensitive nature of the information and the need to restrict its circulation should have been made clear to all recipients.

“I hope this case — along with the fact that we’ve handed out over one million pounds worth of penalties since our powers came into force — acts as a strong incentive for other councils to ensure that they have sufficient measures in place around protecting personal data.”

Instead of sending an email via the council’s secure system, the employee sent an email to the local voluntary sector co-ordinator via her personal email account. The employee said she did this because the co-ordinator did not have an appropriate email account and that using the secure email system would have prevented the information from being further disseminated.

The email, which contained the name and an alleged alias for the individual as well as information about the concerns the police had about him, was then forwarded by the co-ordinator to 100 intended recipients.

Because the email did not have any clear markings or advice on how it was to be treated, the recipients interpreted the wording of the message to mean that they too should forward the email to other voluntary workers. The email was therefore sent to 180 unintended recipients.

Following the breach, the council attempted to recall the email to prevent further dissemination. Over half (57%) of the recipients confirmed that they had deleted the information.

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