NHS fights record £325k ICO fine after clap records appear on eBay

Gov fights itself over your money


An NHS Trust is disputing a record fine the Information Commissioner's Office has levelled on it for leaving tons of data on patients and staff on hard drives that were sold on eBay instead of being destroyed.

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust was served a civil monetary penalty of £325,000, the highest handed out since the ICO got the power to lay financial smackdowns in April 2010. The Trust said it didn't agree with the ICO's findings and was appealing the fine.

The ICO claims that the private data of tens of thousands of patients and employees was left on the sold hard drives, including information from the HIV and Genito Urinary Medicine department, which included personal identifiers like dates of birth and occupations as well as sensitive medical data on their STD test results and diagnoses and sexual preferences. The database also held the names and dates of birth of 1,527 HIV positive patients.

The Trust decommissioned a number of hard drives in March 2008, which were then stuck in commercial storage in a locked room watched by CCTV. Two years later, around a thousand of the drives were moved to Brighton General Hospital and put in a room that could only be accessed with a key code.

The Trust's IT service provider Sussex Health Informatics Service (HIS) asked its usual subcontractor to take care of destroying the drives, but that firm couldn't do it, so HIS asked a different company to do it.

The ICO discovered that HIS never entered into a proper contract with the new contractor, even though it offered one, and only performed basic checks on the credentials of the one individual who ran it. The Trust didn't even know that HIS had employed this contractor.

The unnamed individual came to the hospital on two occasions in the autumn of 2010 to destroy the drives, but they weren't supervised all the time and the hospital never got a proper certificate of destruction with all the serial numbers listed.

That December a data recovery company bought four of the hard drives online from a seller who had bought them from the individual and reported the data breach.

The ICO said that the Trust initially tried to tell the ICO that it was just those four drives that had been sold and all the other hard drives waiting to be destroyed were secure, but it was rumbled in 2011 when a university said that one of their students had bought more drives, 15 of which held the Trust's data.

Eventually, the ICO found out that at least 232 of the Trust's hard drives were sold.

The Trust has said it doesn't agree with the ICO's findings and it is pursuing an appeal with the Information Tribunal.

“We dispute the Information Commissioner’s findings, especially that we were reckless, a requirement for any fine," chief exec Duncan Selbie said in a canned statement.

"We arranged for an experienced NHS IT service provider to safely dispose of our redundant hard drives and acted swiftly to recover, without exception, those that their sub-contractor placed on eBay.

"No sensitive data has therefore entered the public domain. We reported all of this voluntarily to the Information Commissioner’s Office, who told me last summer that this was not a case worthy of a fine," he added.

Selbie said that the ICO had ignored its attempts to explain the situation.

"It is a matter of frank surprise that we still do not know why they have imposed such an extraordinary fine despite repeated attempts to find out, including a freedom of information request which they interestingly refused on the basis that it would 'prejudice the monetary penalty process'," he complained.

"In a time of austerity, we have to ensure more than ever that we deliver the best and safest care to our patients with the money that we have available. We simply cannot afford to pay a £325,000 fine and are therefore appealing to the Information Tribunal." ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021