A UK council has been fined £70,000 for leaving vulnerable people's personal information exposed online for five years.
Nottinghamshire County Council posted the gender, addresses, postcodes and care requirements of elderly and disabled people in an online directory that was left accessible to world+dog. No usernames, passwords or any other access controls limited access to the sensitive information. Although the service users' names were not included, a determined person would have been able to identify them.
The screw-up was only discovered when a member of the public inadvertently stumbled on the data using nothing more sophisticated than a search engine query. The person, who wasn't required to log in, was concerned that it could be used by criminals to target vulnerable people or their homes. The breach was even more severe because it revealed whether or not elderly and vulnerable people were still in hospital.
In July 2011 the council 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. By the time the breach was reported to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in June 2016, the HCAS system contained a directory of 81 service users. Data of an estimated 3,000 people had been posted in the five years the system was online.
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." ®