Brit housing association blabs 3,500 folks' sexual orientation, ethnicity in email blunder

Please update your contact details in this handy spreadsheet ... oh


Updated A UK housing association blurted 3,500 people's sensitive personal data as part of a bungled "please update your contact details" email exercise, The Register has been told.

Watford Community Housing (WCH) sent the email on the night of 23 March to people it thought were its tenants. The email included a spreadsheet with 3,544 rows that included people's names, addresses, dates of birth, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic origin and disability status.

Reg reader Alain Williams, who received the data at about 6pm that day, told us that while he wasn't a WCH tenant himself and was initially confused about why he was on the mailing list at all, he does volunteer with a local group supported by WCH.

In emails seen by The Register, the trust realised its mistake and sent a second email out at 10pm on 23 March apologising and urging recipients to "please delete the email".

A statement on the association website said:

We are aware that an email was sent out which contained personal information about some of our customers. We will now be urgently contacting those affected in order to ensure that they are protected as far as possible and we are taking advice about what other steps we may need to take in this situation, including engagement with the Information Commissioner's Office.

We have contacted WCH to ask how this happened and what measures they're taking to fix the harm caused. We'll update this article if it responds.

It is not known whether any of WCH's tenants are subject to witness protection orders in court proceedings or are fleeing abusive domestic partners.

Our reader Alain, a Watford resident, said he'd alerted his local councillor about the data blab last night and was told that Watford's mayor had been having words with the housing associations chief exec about the breach.

Legally speaking, disclosing sensitive personal data to third parties without permission or legal justification is a breach of the Data Protection Act 2018 and is punishable by a fine. It appears that WCH has recognised this and is speaking to the ICO, which is the standard thing that data controllers are supposed to do under these circumstances.

While the data disclosure is obviously a very bad thing, so far WCH's initial response appears to be proceeding along the right lines.

WCH is far from the only organisation to fall victim to such blunders. A couple of years ago West Ham FC emailed every single one of its away season ticket holders in a CC-not-BCC snafu, while no less than the government's official inquiry into child sexual abuse was fined £200,000 after the ICO ruled that it had emailed 90 people with each other's details in error – revealing the identities of potential victims of child sexual abuse.

Further afield, extremist terrorist organisation the Afghan Taliban managed to endanger journalists and NGO workers' lives back in 2012 when one of their spokesmen committed the old CC-not-BCC blunder. ®

Updated at 13:32 on 25 March 2020 to add:

Tina Barnard, chief executive of Watford Community Housing, got in touch to say:

"We apologise unreservedly for this breach and share our customers' concerns. We take our responsibilities with customer information extremely seriously and this was the result of human error.

"In line with our commitment to being transparent, we have moved quickly to inform the ICO and we will work closely with the Information Commissioner as required. We will also carry out a full review of our processes to ensure this could not happen again.

"We are taking a variety of steps to assess the potential impact on those affected by the breach, including identifying any safeguarding concerns, and we are contacting our customers to provide information, guidance and support. Anyone with concerns should email CustomerRelationsTeam@wcht.org.uk and we will contact them."

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