The Data Protection Act requires organisations to take appropriate measures to keep personal data secure, especially when dealing with sensitive information.
The council had launched its ‘Home Care Allocation System’ (HCAS), an online portal allowing social care providers to confirm that they had capacity to support a particular service user, in July 2011. It included the gender, addresses, postcodes and care requirements of elderly and disabled people but did not have even basic security or access restrictions, such as a username or password.
The matter was only discovered in June 2016 when a member of the public using a search engine was inadvertently able to access and view the data with no need to log in, and was concerned that it could be used by criminals to target vulnerable people or their homes – especially as it even revealed whether or not they were still in hospital.
The HCAS system contained a directory of 81 service users and the data of 3,000 people.
Although the service user's names were not included, a determined person would be able to identify them, the ICO ruled. The council offered no mitigation to the regulator.
ICO head of enforcement Steve Eckersley said: “This was a serious and prolonged breach of the law. For no good reason, the council overlooked the need to put robust measures in place to protect people’s personal information, despite having the financial and staffing resources available.
“Given the sensitive nature of the personal data and the vulnerability of the people involved, this was totally unacceptable and inexcusable. Organisations need to understand that they have to treat the security of data as seriously as they take the security of their premises or their finances.”