Portsmouth City Council staff sacked for privacy breaches

Portsmouth Civic Offices
Portsmouth Civic Offices
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Portsmouth City Council sacked two members of staff for misusing confidential personal records, a report reveals.

The cases were disclosed after a Freedom of Information Act request to councils across the UK by the monitoring group Big Brother Watch.

Portsmouth revealed that one staff member had been dismissed for the misuse of PCC computerised systems by unauthorised accessing personal records related to a child.

And another was sacked for accessing the records of several clients on a number of occasions with no business need to do so and passing highly sensitive

confidential information to a third party.

Other cases in Portsmouth included sharing confidential information with a prosecuting barrister without the consent of the client (final written warning and demoted for six months), inappropriately accessing and printing a letter in a client’s file (first written warning) and accessing information about a Portsmouth City Council housing tenant and their partner inappropriately and unnecessarily (final written warning).

Big Brother Watch said Hampshire County Council refused to provide information, citing time and cost.

The group’s report says that sensitive personal information has been lost or stolen in thousands of data breaches by councils across the county.

In one case a social worker left papers containing confidential records about children and information linked to sex offenders on a train.

Another saw a CCTV operator use cameras to watch a colleague’s wedding.

Local authorities recorded a total of 4,236 data breaches in three years from April 2011 - a rate of almost four every day, the study by privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch found.

Find out more about Big Brother Watch at bigbrotherwatch.org.uk.

Sensitive or confidential information was compromised in 260 of the cases, while breaches involved personal data linked to children on 658 occasions.

In some cases council staff were found to have accessed material “for personal interest”.

Big Brother Watch called for custodial sentences to be introduced for the most serious data breaches after finding just one in 10 resulted in disciplinary action and only one led to a prosecution.

Director Emma Carr said: “Despite local councils being trusted with increasing amounts of our personal data, this report highlights that they are simply not able to say it is safe with them.

“A number of examples show shockingly lax attitudes to protecting confidential information. For so many children and young people to have had their personal information compromised is deeply disturbing.

“With only a tiny fraction of staff being disciplined or dismissed, this raises the question of how seriously local councils take protecting the privacy of the public.”

The report, based on responses to freedom of information requests, said data was lost or stolen on 401 occasions, while there were 628 instances of incorrect or inappropriate information being shared on emails, letters and faxes.

More than 5,000 letters were sent to the wrong address or included content meant for another recipient, while there were 99 cases of unauthorised access to or disclosing of data.

Researchers also found that a total of 197 mobile phones, computers, tablets and USBs were lost or stolen.

More than two in three incidents led to no disciplinary action at all, while staff resigned in 39 cases and 50 employees were dismissed.