Original post : 1 Apr 2014

Government department fined 185,000 in data protection breach

Government fined for selling locked filing cabinateA government department which sold a locked filing cabinet later found to contain personal information about victims of a terrorist incident has been fined £185,000 following an investigation by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

The Compensation Agency Northern Ireland, which falls under the control of DoJ NI, sold the locked filing cabinet at auction during an office move.

Staff were unaware that the cabinet contained sensitive information about victims, their injuries, family details and compensation payments or that it held confidential ministerial briefings.

The breach came to light when the new owner forced the lock and discovered the files. He called the police immediately.

ICO Assistant Commissioner for Northern Ireland, Ken Macdonald, said: “This is clearly a very serious case. While failing to check the contents of a filing cabinet before selling it may seem careless, the nature of the information typically held by this organisation made the error all the more concerning."

The ICO investigation discovered that although there was an expectation within the agency that personal data would be handled securely there was limited guidance on what this actually meant in practice despite the very sensitive nature of the information held. 

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