Who's the leakiest of them all? It's the UK's public sector, breach fine analysis reveals

Ah, the old lost disk scenario...


Despite the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) recently slapping record megafines on British Airways and Marriott for data leakage, it's actually the UK's public sector that racked up the biggest volume of breaches in the last eight years.

Since 2010, the ICO has handed out 216 fines totalling £23.5m (excluding the BA and Marriott), according to data crunched by SMS API company The SMS Works.

Of those, 110 penalties were for data breaches since 2010, 50.9 per cent of the total. Meanwhile, nuisance calls account for 27 per cent of all fines, with SMS and email spam making up the remaining 22 per cent.

But the public sector is responsible for the highest number of data breach fines, with a total of 60 handed out.

Some of those incidents include a £185,000 penalty against Northern Ireland's Department of Justice for auctioning off a filing cabinet that contained personal information about victims of a terrorist attack in 2014. And in 2016, Blackpool hospital was fined £185,000 for posting the private details of thousands of staff members on its website.

Lest we forget, Humberside Police was hit with a £130,000 fine last year after disks containing a video interview of an alleged rape victim went missing. At the time, Steve Eckersley, ICO director of investigations, commented that the watchdog sees "far too many cases where police forces fail to look after disks containing the highly sensitive personal information contained within victim or witness interviews."

Despite the fine, the ICO's July review (PDF) showed the British public continue to be significantly more likely to have high trust and confidence (rating 4.5 out of 5) in the NHS, police and national governmental bodies and agencies than in private companies.

Some 66 per cent of respondents said they trust the NHS or their local GP with storing and using their personal information, it found.

The ICO issued £3m worth of fines for data breaches in the year to April 2018, including £500,000 against Equifax for its security debacle affecting the personal data of up to 15 million UK residents, and the same amount against Facebook over its data-harvesting scandal that affected an estimated 87 million users. The anti-social network is appealing against the fine.

Although the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was in place during 2018, the powers were not used in that period due to the time it takes to investigate breaches.

Since the GDPR came into force on 25 May last year, companies are now liable for a penalty of up to €20m or, in the case of an undertaking, up to 4 per cent of turnover in the company's preceeding fiscal year.

The ICO has put those powers into use in 2019, with British Airways facing a record fine of £183m for last year's data leakage (1.5 per cent of its turnover), and hotel chain Marriott could be stung for £99m (3 per cent). Both are contesting those penalties. ®

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