Cheshire East council has been fined £80,000 by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) for failing to have adequate security measures in place when emailing personal information.
The ICO 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 the area.
Instead of sending the email via the council's secure system, the employee sent it via her personal email account. The email contained the name and an alleged alias for the individual, as well as information about concerns the police had about him. The correspondence was then forwarded by the co-ordinator to 100 intended recipients.
The council employee said she sent the email from her personal account because the co-ordinator did not have an appropriate email address and that using the secure email system would have prevented the information from being further disseminated.
As 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 should also forward the email to other voluntary workers. As a result, it was forwarded on to 180 unintended recipients.
Following the breach, the council attempted to recall the email to prevent further disclosure. More than 57 per cent of the recipients said that they had deleted the information.
Stephen Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO, said: "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.
"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."
He added: "I hope this case, along with the fact that we've handed out over £1m 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."
This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.
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