An article caught my attention in The Guardian this week, not because it affects me directly, but because I wonder if the council in Anglesey have thought through the data security implications of storing electronic copies of birth certificates for all its youngest citizens.
The aim is to prevent parents of children over three years old from using its fortnightly nappy collection service in order to reduce costs, based on “evidence that most children are potty trained between ages of two and three”. Instead, these parents should use the three-weekly household waste collection services.
In order to prove eligibility for the service, parents need to upload a copy of the child’s birth certificate. This is what grabbed my attention because, as a data management professional, the storage and protection of official documents is something that interests me. Identity theft is one of the big issues that we all face today because organised crime networks are constantly on the lookout for easy ways of stealing identity details.
A copy of a birth certificate is a highly-valuable document - it can be used to gain a passport, open a bank account, etc. Even if it can’t be used today, it can very easily be stored away for some point in the future when a credible identity is needed for human trafficking, money laundering or illegal arms trading.
Consequently, any organisation that systematically stores large numbers of birth certificates has a very real duty of care to ensure that these documents are stored securely and are not at risk from hackers. Access to documents such as birth certificates should be limited to those who need them. Employees are an important source of data breach, either because they have a grievance or because they are being blackmailed.
A useful principle in the discipline of data security is not to store sensitive data unless you really need to - it’s an easy way of avoiding the risk of a data breach as well as avoiding the costs involved in securing the data. I wonder what measures Anglesey Council has put in place to ensure that the birth certificates they are storing are secure. They may well have taken all the necessary precautions, of course.
I also wonder whether the costs of securing the birth certificates is more or less than the savings expected by not collecting nappies of children over the age of three. After all, there is “evidence that most children are potty trained between ages of two and three…”