Our councils must ensure private data is protected

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Today’s story exposing Hampshire County Council’s failure to protect confidential data concerning more than 100 vulnerable people is alarming.

We entrust councils to be responsible and diligent with our personal information; and not be careless in the way that data is kept and accessed.

So this stark error will raise serious questions over how strict security procedures are in our local town halls and in other buildings in which councils operate – or have operated out of in recent times – and whether it is too easy for someone to get their hands on sensitive information.

Digital security and international corporate espionage is very much in the spotlight; it is well known that digital information must be carefully protected.

And so you might think that ‘old-fashioned’ paper files of personal information would certainly be kept safe; and not, for instance, be left lying around in a building. They might contain a person’s mental health history, or records relating to a looked-after child.

It’s frustrating that in the case of Hampshire County Council, simple steps were not taken to ensure reports were not left lying about; it now faces a hefty fine at a time when cuts are still being made to ensure local services stay alive.

Sacks of data could have been seized by anyone inside Town End House in Havant, a very worrying prospect. And there are many who would have welcomed the £100,000 that the council has been fined by the information Commissioner being spent on something benefiting the community; not compensating for an error which could have been so easily avoided.

So that’s why we urge all local councils to go from top to bottom through their ranks and tease out flaws and mistakes in the way our information is kept to ensure this situation does not happen again.

Aside from the financial consequences, the thought of criminal gangs and organisations gaining access to our private lives and the workings of councils seeking to represent us is a worrying thought. It’s high time councils realise they are not immune to the risk of being hacked.