HIV Scotland fined £10,000 for BCC email blunder identifying names of virus-carriers' patient-advocates

'Serious deficiencies in tech and organisational measures'

The United Kingdom's data watchdog is calling on organisations to review their "bulk email practices" after a BCC blunder by HIV Scotland incurred a £10,000 fine for breaking data protection regulations.

The case pertains to an email that was sent to 105 individuals on the Community Advisory Network (CAN) list, which is made up of patient-advocates "from across Scotland to represent the full diversity of people living with HIV". In the offending chain, all of the email addresses were visible to all recipients and some 65 were people identified by name.

All personal data is important but the very nature of HIV Scotland's work should have compelled it to take particular care

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which investigated the February 2020 email event, said that from the personal information exposed, assumptions could be made about the people's HIV status or risk.

The charity had bought a MailChimp account in July 2019 and told the ICO [PDF] the system it had previously had in place for storing data had been poor, involving a "variety of different Excel spreadsheets that individual staff controlled."

It said it had migrated a number of lists to "provide the necessary functionality for bulk messages to be sent in a more secure manner." Unfortunately, HIV Scotland had not yet switched over the CAN list.

On 3 February last year, HIV Scotland hit send on an email – relating to an event about to take place – via Microsoft Outlook, relaying the missive to 105 folk on the CAN. Instead of opting for the Blind Carbon Copy feature, it used Carbon Copy.

After the subsequent investigation, the ICO said it found "shortcomings" in the charity's email processes, ranging from "inadequate staff training, incorrect methods of sending bulk emails by blind carbon copy and an inadequate data protection policy."

"All personal data is important but the very nature of HIV Scotland's work should have compelled it to take particular care," said Ken McDonald, head of ICO Regions. "This avoidable error caused distress to the very people the charity seeks to help."

"I would encourage all organisations to revisit their bulk email policies to ensure they have robust procedures in place," he added.

HIV Scotland was penalised with a £10,000 fine under section 155 of the Data Protection Act 2018. It fully migrated all of its lists to MailChimp in late February 2020 and checked its SharePoint server to ensure no personal data was stored separately from the secure mailing lists. Staff have since undertaken online training.

"The Commissioner takes the view from her investigation that this breach occurred primarily as a result of serious deficiencies in HIV Scotland's technical and organisational measures," the ICO concluded.

The Register has asked HIV Scotland to comment.

This latest debacle follows another BCC blunder just last week by NHS Digital in which it copied the entirety of the invite list of messages about a "Let's Talk Cyber" breakfast briefing. No, the irony wasn't lost on us. ®

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